E.T. found buried in a New Mexico landfill dump

No, not the alien – the critically derided spin-off video game. But why did Atari abandon the E.T. video game in the desert?

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first ET cartridge via @majornelson
E.T. found a home in the New Mexico desert Larry Hryb via Twitter

Much like aliens themselves, the existence of E.T. the Extraterrestrial's final resting place was subject to dispute. In the 80s, Atari manufactured a spin-off game based on the success of the Spielberg film. It turned out to be one of the company's most commercial unsuccessful ventures in history and was panned by gaming critics and fans alike. Over the decades, an urban legend held that Atari had buried millions of the unsold cartridges in the middle of the desert. This week, the world discovered that the myth was true all along, and the truth – like Roswell and Area 51 – lies in New Mexico. 

A documentary film team teamed up with New Mexico officials and Microsoft to excavate a landfill that was the suspected site of the dump. They've discovered hundreds of E.T. cartridges, and there may be many more. Larry Hryb from Microsoft was co-ordinating the dig. Take a look at his photos below:

So why did Atari bury all these E.T games in New Mexico over twenty years ago? For starters, the game was a universally derided flop. Despite striking a $20 million deal with Steven Spielberg to produce 5 million copies of the game, Atari only managed to sell 1.5 million. The game was critically panned – reviewers cited it as dull, with poor graphics and laboured gameplay. E.T would often fall into traps that were impossible to get out of, making it a dysfunctional gaming dystopia hated by everyone that played it. The release still appears on lists such as "Worst Video Games Of All Time" or "I Can't Believe I Played That". You can see the game in action here:

The sales (or lack thereof) of E.T. are said to have contributed to a huge recession in the video game industry in 1983. Atari lost $536 million that year. Imagine making a product so terrible that you accidentally destroy your entire industry. No wonder they buried it. But that didn't stop gamers from speculating about the final end of the Atari game – the rumours even inspired LA slacker band Wintergreen to create a music video about the search for the missing cartridge. It's probably the nicest thing that's happened to E.T., and even the band themselves admit it's terrible:

Now that the Sasquatch of the video game has been found, what's left? Well, the shrink-wrapped cartridges look like they're in mint condition. Fire up your Ataris, people – we've got some E.T. to play. 

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