The Legend Is Real: Hundreds of E.T. Atari Game Cartridges Found in New Mexico Landfill

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 27 2014 2:47 PM

The Legend Is Real: Hundreds of E.T. Atari Game Cartridges Found in New Mexico Landfill

Well, that didn’t take long. In about three hours, documentary filmmakers digging in a New Mexico landfill came upon a batch of “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” Atari game cartridges, considered by many to be the worst video game ever made. For decades, gamers have debated whether the tale that Atari buried thousands of E.T. cartridges in a landfill in Alamogordo was real. Who dumped the cartridges and why led to the dig and a documentary by Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios, reports Reuters. Enthusiasts have long said the game that was rushed out to coincide with the spectacular success of the Steven Spielberg movie contributed to the demise of Atari. It’s unclear how many cartridges have been uncovered with both AP and Reuters putting the number at “hundreds” for now.

While some rushed to celebrate that the discovery proved the legend of the Atari landfill was real, others are insisting that calling it a legend in the first place is misguided. “There's another way you could view it,” writes Ars Technica, “some guys with cameras hired some garbage men to dig up a bunch of 31-year-old junk they knew was there and that no one wanted even when it was new.” After all, in 1983 the New York Times wrote about how Atari “has dumped 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment at the city landfill in Alamogordo.” Still, the Atari landfill is more than a news story—it has since taken legendary status as a symbol of the 1983 crash in the videogame industry.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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