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Excavated Atari Dump Story Unearths More Than 31 Year Old Game Cartridges; Experience Also Makes The Past Meet The Present

(Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

The weekend excavation of a 30-plus year old dump  that held the remains of an unpopular Atari game proved to be interesting not only to those who are video game fanatics;  The story also allows our past and present to meet – if only for a few fleeting moments.

I’ll admit – I’m not a video game player.  The reasons for this probably have more to do with my personal timeline than anything;  I was born before there were such things as home computers and Atari game consoles.  And while they did start to appear as my childhood went on, I never succumbed  to the lure of their entertainment.

That said, it was hard to ignore the market saturation that Atari had on the children’s toy market.  Seemingly everyone had an Atari game system in their home – or, in the vernacular of the era when Atari was the only video game option – appeared that everyone had “an Atari”.  What started with a few game titles in the mid-1970′s had become a system with new games arriving all the time – usually partnered with whatever was trending at the time.  I guess you could call this early market integration.

So by 1982 – when the movie E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial hit the theaters, it was only aforgone conclusion that the company would put out “an Atari” to partner with the success of the film.  Only, it didn’t work that way.  The game bombed – in a big way.  Millions of copies of the cartridge had been manufactured in advance of anticipated sales – only to be met with the cold, hard reality that the general public ranked the game as one of the worst ever.  Store shelves were piled high with merchandise that the company couldn’t even give away.

In order to write off the loss, Atari decided to bury the remaining inventory – get it out of their warehouses and move on.  Urban legend says that it happened “in the middle of the night”, and that “concrete barriers were poured” to prevent anyone from extracting them from the dirt. The expensive failure of Atari’s E.T. and the landfill result have always been blamed for the deflated video game industry of the mid-1980′s.  It wasn’t until the late 80′s and early 90′s when Nintendo came along that sales started to grow again.

All of this happened sometime in September 1983.  There were even reports about it in the New York Times.  However for some reason, the legend of this Atari dump grew over the years.  Was the story true?  Were there millions of E.T. Atari games in the dirt in New Mexico?

Recently two documentary filmmakers decided to test the story by planning a dig, filming the results – whatever they were – for their movie.  The event happened this last weekend, and true to form – they found the Atari game cartridges from 1983, complete with their inserts.

So why do I as a non-video game player care about this story?  For as long as I can remember, I have always had an interest in “found objects” from the past.  Things like time capsules – even old bottles and cans in the woods. There is an area that I like to bring my son fishing every summer and along the waters’ edge I always manage to find those discarded pull-tabs from metal pop and beer cans – the kind that they stopped making in the late 1970′s.  I always marvel that this discarded junk still exists 30-odd years later and I spend the time to look for them.

I guess I like the idea of vintage-1983 Atari cartridges meeting the sunny reality of 2014.

To read more about the Atari E.T. discovery, click here or  here.

 

 

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