A deeply buried pile of unwanted E.T. Atari game cartridges or an empty urban legend – whatever exists under the desert dirt and a layer of cement in Alamogordo, New Mexico is about to be unearthed, but is it better to let the legend swirl?
Fuel Industries doesn’t think so. The Ottawa-based company is excavating the site of one of pop culture’s most infamous grave sites – a landfill in Alamogrodo – in an effort to see if Atari really did discard over 3.5 million copies of the game (and various other pieces of hardware and software) back in 1983.
Why would Fuel care? Well, they’re set to film a documentary of their endeavor, perhaps setting themselves up for a “Capone’s vault” like embarrassment and the discovery of 30 year-old trash. Of course, 30 year-old trash is what 3.5 million copies of the Atari 2600 game E.T. The Extra Terrestrial should be considered as. Hardly a rarity or a big seller on auction sites, the game’s value lies in the spectacle of its demise. A spectacle that will certainly be lessened by Fuel’s mission.
Right now, the E.T. mass grave – be it real, fake, or exaggerated – stands out as a monument to the early excesses of a nascent video game industry that had to fall on its teeth before it could stand on its feet. It’s also a reminder – albeit a grayed and tattered one – that even in the early days, gamers could smell a blatant cash grab, rejecting it en masse.
And that’s what the game was for Atari, wasn’t it? Developed in a sprint over just 5 weeks in 1982 after a long negotiation for the rights to use E.T. in a game, Yars’ Revenge creator admirably (and impressively) Howard Scott Warshaw delivered the game in time for Christmas – a deadline that likely mattered more to Atari than the contents of the game itself.
The impact of Atari’s hubris – on the company, on the gaggle of underdeveloped consoles that sprung up and quickly fell down in the early days of console gaming, and the industry itself – will, of course, live on despite Fuel’s efforts, but it will be a phantom of its former self. Indeed, mystery is oxygen and Fuel is about to suck all the air out of this magnificent legend’s allure, allowing us to forget about a pile of crap and the misguided intentions that conspired to birth it in the first place.