Atari’s Buried Treasure: Uncovering Failure in a New Mexico Landfill
Atari is a name to whom gaming owes a debt. Creators of such classic arcade titles as Pong, Centipede, and Asteroids, the company was singularly responsible for gaming’s popularization through the 1970’s, yet, after little over a decade, the company unfortunately and abruptly closed its doors in 1984. What happened? Though the gaming crash of 1984 contributed the heaviest blow, most gamers recognize another nostalgic reason for the company’s bankruptcy: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
In 1982, Atari released E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Pac-Man, two games that seemingly reversed and annulled the company’s decade long popularity. They were not only monotonous and difficult, but even now are considered among the worst releases in gaming history. Over time, the games became massive financial and critical disappointments, and rumors began to spread that unsold copies numbering in the hundreds of thousands were returned to Atari.
What the company did with those unsold copies became gaming’s greatest urban-legend. Perhaps to hide it’s shame, Atari supposedly buried the returned games in a New Mexico landfill, where their existence eventually passed from certainty to rumor to myth. Yet as most of us know, nostalgia is a powerful drug, and the mythical landfill has never been completely forgotten.
Leave it to Microsoft’s gaming division to unearth Atari’s greatest mistakes. This past Saturday, the company documented its attempt to uncover the trove of gaming history, and as proof that all hidden sins eventually come to light, Atari’s legendary trove was found and unearthed for all to see. Though the majority of games currently remain buried, enough copies of E.T. and other Atari games have been found to confirm the find.
Interestingly, a former Atari manager present at the dig remains unsure why there was ever a controversy. He mentions that destroying the games was his responsibility, yet he remained oblivious to the mythical status of the landfill until early last year. When asked why he never confirmed the story until the past few days, his response serves as the perfect book-end for the absurd tale: “Because nobody asked.”