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If you ask the question “What was the worst video game of all time?” 1982’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” for the Atari 2600 will probably be the most common answer. The game was virtually unplayable. Instead of being treated to a grand adventure of E.T.’s attempt to phone home, players found their pixelated alien endlessly falling into pits. Droves of upset kids forced their parents to return the game in favor of going back to actual good Atari games involving pits, like “Pitfall.”
The E.T. game was so bad that many link it directly to the demise of Atari and even blame the game for the crash of the entire video game market in the early 1980s. Due to overproduction, millions of E.T. game cartridges found themselves unsold or returned, leading to the legend of the Atari burial site. In September 1983, The New York Times reported that 14 truckloads of Atari games were trashed in a landfill in the New Mexico desert. Thirty years later, somebody decided to dig it up.
The Atari burial site and its association with the worst video game of all time has become some sort of fairytale among gaming enthusiasts. The idea of a million Atari games lying in what is essentially a video game graveyard was just too ridiculous scenario for some people to believe. Gaming media companies Xbox Entertainment Studios and Fuel Industries decided to go out and bust the supposed myth by locating and excavating the actual burial site as a part of a documentary on the fall of Atari.
Using old photographs and digging exploratory wells, the documentarians were able to locate the actual burial site outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, and upon approval of the New Mexico Environment Department, they began their excavation last Saturday, breaking literal ground with an event that may live on in infamy.
The excavation garnered the attention of around 200 spectators. Many were either local residents or video game enthusiasts hoping to witness video game history. Unfortunately, most of them were scared off by the dust and garbage being strewn about by the strong winds. Eventually, they found something that wasn’t just trash, at least in the context of the event.
Documentary director Zak Penn (screenwriter of the films “X-Men 2” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”) told an excited crowd, “We found something. We found an intact ET video game. The actual cartridge is still in there.” The crew was able to unearth hundreds of E.T. game cartridges, some still sealed in its original packaging, complete with game instructions.
Xbox Director of Programming Larry Hryb was on-site at the dig and took to Twitter with the message “We found ‘em!” followed by a deluge of photographs of worn E.T. game cartridges. “Urban legend CONFIRMED,” said one of the tweets featuring Penn holding an E.T. cartridge up with pride.
The game’s original designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, was also present at the event. Despite being responsible for what’s been billed as one of the worst games of all time, Warshaw saw the brighter side of things. “Something that I did 32 years ago is still creating joy and excitement for people,” he said. “That’s a tremendously satisfying thing for me now.”
The excavation will be featured in a documentary tentatively titled “Atari: Game Over.” It will air later this year as a part of Xbox Originals, a series of original TV programming exclusively for Microsoft devices, such as Xbox One and Xbox 360.
You can view a video recap on the Atari dig here.
By Alfredo Dizon, eParisExtra