Alamogordo’s city council has granted an excavation permit for the infamous landfill holding millions 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 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 this unsellable stock in a warehouse in El Paso, Texas. The publisher decided to write off the whole mess and paid to dump the cartridges 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 Albuquerque city council to excavate the site. The burial took place on September 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 capitalise 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.