Someone's Going to Dig Up Atari's Infamous New Mexico Landfill

Alamogordo's city council has granted an excavation permit for the infamous landfill said to hold thousands of copies of E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600—two titles blamed for the mid-1980s crash of console gaming—and yes, the permit-holder is digging out the site specifically to find those games' remains.

The story is well known to gamers, particularly those who played both cartridges in their childhoods. Atari spent a ton on the rights to adapt an E.T. video game and the result stunk like shit. Some 3.5 million E.T. cartridges went unsold and sat in Atari's warehouses. Pac-Man, though it sold 7 million copies, had some 5 million unsold carts left over as the novelty of playing Pac-Man in your home—in a version that looked and sounded nothing like its arcade namesake—quickly wore off.

Atari had a bunch of unsellable stock in a warehouse in El Paso, Texas. The publisher decided to write off the whole mess and paid to dump it plus some other hardware—including, allegedly, prototypes of the ridiculous Mindlink controller—in landfill in Alamogordo, 90 miles north. All of the material was said to have been crushed; a layer of concrete was then poured over the remains before being covered by earth.

Presumably, the Canada-based filmmaker Fuel Industries knows all of that. It still wants to see what's buried there, and got a six-month permit from the Alamogordo city council to excavate the site. The burial took place on Sept. 26, 1983, so it seems a 30th anniversary event is in the works. Someone call Geraldo Rivera.

What's ironic here is that in 1983, Alamogordo's city council protested the dumping and later passed laws restricting such landfilling operations, fearful the city would become attractive for these kinds of jobs. Now it seems to be willing to capitalize on the notoriety. "I hope more people find out about Alamogordo through this opportunity that we have to unearth the Atari games in the landfill," Mayor Susie Galea said, according to KRQE-TV.

Editor's Note: While Atari indeed bury a bunch of stuff 30 years ago—which many believe includes unsold copies of E.T. and Pac-Man—the company at the time officially denied it was a mass E.T. and there is dispute, especially in this 2012 book, that those games were even the bulk of the waste sent north to Alamagordo during the 1983 burial. That said, Atari did have surplus stock, whether unsold or defective, crushed and buried at this facility 30 years ago. Guess we'll find out what it really was in the next six months.

Alamogordo Approves Atari Excavation [KRQE-TV; also via NPR]

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