Legend has it that there’s a massive grave of Atari games, most notably millions of copies of the epic commercial failure E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, buried in a New Mexico landfill. If you’re an Atari nerd or video game historian, you probably know the story.
Back in 1983, reports emerged that between 10 and 20 semi truckloads full of Atari games and systems were dumped into a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Atari claimed that the dump was due to the changeover of Atari 2600 to Atari 5200 games. As additional reports emerged, the story became even murkier. Eventually, it came to be believed that Atari had dumped around 3.5 million copies of the E.T game, a huge failure, in the landfill and buried it in concrete.
The story has taken on the status of urban legend. Are there really millions of copies of terrible Atari games buried in the New Mexico desert? There even a Wikipedia entry on the “Atari Video Game Burial” that chronicles both the fact and myth. Among gamers, it’s a highly-contested question. Is it total BS?
We may soon have an answer – or at least more information to go on.
A New Mexico City Commission has approved a search of the landfill grounds by Canadian marketing agency Fuel Industries. They’ll be looking for any discarded Atari wares buried under mounds of dirt and concrete – and they have been given six months to look.
In 1983, as Atari was sinking into hard times, they paid to license the name of one of the previous year’s most popular films – and they fell even deeper in the hole. Out of that failure rose this legend. This odd story, one of the strangest and most mythical for video game lovers, may finally get a new chapter.