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Legend no more: Dumped Atari 2600 E.T. games unearthed in New Mexico dig

The 30-year-old gaming myth is confirmed as Atari cartridges found in landfill by construction workers and film crew

For decades it was simply rumour, but now it has become a reality. The tragic story of the discarded Atari 2600 “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” game cartridges has finally been unearthed in a land fill in New Mexico.

Film and excavation crews were joined by around 200 gaming enthusiasts and local residents for the dig, while some had brought their own Atari 2600 consoles ready to play any games that could be salvaged there and then.

The story started in 1982, when Atari is thought to have spent more than $21 million on licensing fees to create a game off the back of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster hit E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The resulting product created by Atari is widely considered by gamers to be one of the worst ever created. It was rushed into production to hit stores that Christmas and capitalise on the film’s success, but its badly designed gameplay and multiple bugs meant that sales plummeted.

Critics even uploaded examples of the gameplay to YouTube to demonstrate how "horrible" the experience was:


According to Mashable, Atari produced around five million E.T. game cartridges, but 3.5 million of these were sent back as either unsold inventory or customer returns.

The embarrassing flop of E.T. is understood to have helped Atari lose over $500 million in the next year, which is often cited as a contributing factor in the video game industry crash of 1983.

That year, the New York Times reported that Atari had dumped 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges among other computer equipment at a city landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the United States.

Reporters and spectators were kept away from the scene as concrete was poured over the dumped merchandise, and its contents passed into gaming legend.

But on Saturday construction workers finally discovered cartridges of the E.T. game still in its shrink-wrap, and putting to rest one of the biggest gaming myths in 30 years.

The excavation was filmed for an upcoming documentary that will look at the changing landscape of the video game industry, produced by the Microsoft-owned Xbox Entertainment Studios.