Atari was a booming video game company in the 70’s and 80’s. E.T. was its downfall. They created a horrible game based on the movie which is said to have led to the company’s bankruptcy a few years later (it is ranked 2nd worst video game of the 80’s, second only to ‘Custer’s Revenge’). Supposedly the purpose of the game was to phone home, and the climax depended on finding correct phone change. Other missions involved refusing to dissect frogs, and steering a bicycle over the moon while trying to see over the hunched shoulders of what was purported to be E.T., but really is just a black blob that takes up half the screen.
When gamers revolted, Atari tried to save face by eliminating all signs they had ever dreamed up such a horrible idea. Where better to erase the past than the New Mexico desert (especially when aliens are involved)? Dump trucks full of game cartridges were reported to have journeyed into the desert, dumped the game, and buried it under cover of night.
Up until a few weeks ago the only places you could read about this story were disreputable urban legend websites and Wikipedia. I did an inordinate amount of work digging up the details of the grave. We were set to break the story wide open.
Then Canada got in our way. Again.
Exactly two evenings before we were set to roll into Alamogordo, still basking in the misty jungles of the Earthship, we read a story online that a Canadian film company, Fuel Industries, had purchased the rights to unearth the Atari video game dump.
So it wasn’t just an urban legend. That was the upside. But the downside was that people were now cagey to talk about the story until the deal was signed with the film company who seemed to have bought rights to the story itself.
The two retirees manning the Alamagordo visitor center front desk had no idea what we were talking about. After much confusion and shouting over hearing aids they brought out Lorraine. Lorraine looked like she knew what was up. She told us that at the city council meeting just the day before they were explicitly told that no city employees could discuss the pending deal for liability reasons. What liability? Unclear. Lorraine said they were afraid of people attempting to dig up the games and hurting themselves. Shovels can be dangerous. So, with no further information on where the E.T. was buried, and no jackhammer on hand to start busting up concrete slabs around Alamogordo, we drove out into the desert to view some desolation for ourselves. Good luck Fuel Industries – we hope you don’t die of heat stroke while attempting this good work.
But here’s what’s interesting to me – Fuel Industries sealed the deal by paying the city a $26,000 initial deposit for the exhuming rites. Is this the first of a trend in paying big bucks for rights to buried trash? Lots of science fiction writers wonder if we’ll be digging up landfills like gold mines in some far distant future. But this may already be happening. The first major case of this is a company called Advanced Plasma Power paying for rights to dig up a closed Belgian landfill to burn the rubbish as ‘renewable energy’ [read: incinerate]… APP believes they can create a 60MW power plant with capacity to power ~60,000 homes and expect the project to be worth <$650m. Again, I can’t help but wonder, isn’t it dangerous to start seeing our garbage as a resource?
Thanks, Atari for adding some humor to this!
(*cover photo image credit: Atari, Inc. from game cover)