Yes way back in the 80s, one landfill in New Mexico was filled with E.T. video games... but why? Let’s take a trip back to Christmas Day, 1982… A young kid opens up a Christmas present and finds a video game: The hot new video game of the Christmas season: E.T for the Atari 2600. He turns on the game, plays for a minute & what does he get? Nothing but sadness & disappointment…

Fast forward 9 months later to September 1983: Some men are working at a landfill in New Mexico and they discover weirdly square shaped objects…They walk over & discover thousands of video game cartridges all buried in the dirt...

The E.T. Atari New Mexico Landfill

I know this sounds crazy, like a completely made up story. There's no WAY Atari would've buried THOUSANDS of video game cartridges in the desert somewhere... but they did. For years The Atari Landfill was consider a myth, an urban legend. But in 2014, in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico... that all changed. The creator of E.T. the video game, tons of construction crews & THOUSANDS of people came to the landfill, hoping that maybe this story was true...

So now we know that the story is true. But the question is... WHY? Why would Atari bury tons of stuff out in the desert? James Teller, who worked for Atari for 7 years did an interview with Stephen Stilphen where he explained in great detail why & also included photos OF the games being dumped. He was the plant administrator for Atari in El Paso, TX, which had two plants that produced the video game cartridges & consoles for distribution to stores:

  • The first plant opened up in 1979 located in the Farah Manufacturing plant at 5645 Beacon until it closed in 1981.
  • The 2nd plant opened in 1982 at 11440 Pellicano. In September 1983, Atari had laid off 380 of its 660 El Paso employees. The plant went from manufacturing home video game cartridges to "remanufacturing," or repairing faulty merchandise returned by vendors. In 1984, the El Paso Atari plant was closed for good, putting the remaining 300 employees out of work.

During 1982 & 83, Atari would put out games that would sell... well... POORLY: the worst being the 2600 port of Pac-Man & E.T. the video game. They would become two of the biggest factors that lead to the Video Game Crash of 1983.

So what do you do when the game didn't sell? Well you got to get rid of them somehow... Over 750,000 cartridges were buried out in Alamogordo in an area that spanned 50 x 100 feet. Everything that was dumped became either buried or crushed beneath the weight of the trucks & bulldozers.

"My intention was to dump cartridges only. I would say that 95% of the cartridges dumped were new...It appears that El Paso took the opportunity to discard old materials, including consoles, trackballs, etc, that been accumulating when they started their customer service project.  So, yes, some consoles were dumped in Alamogordo" - James Teller

What really created the rumor, & possibly started the urban legend, was the decision made by the Alamogordo City Commission to adopt an ordinance prohibiting dumping of trash generated outside the city limits in the city's landfill without the city manager's approval. This was ALSO made in September 1983, possibly shortly after the dumping of the video games.

The story gained attention in the news & of course video game magazines like Computer Games (February 1984 issue) & Enter (March 1984 issue):

Computer Games
Computer Games

So where are the games now? Today the dug up E.T. games now sit inside The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., where they will forever remain a piece of video game history, U.S. history & quite possibly New Mexico history as well.

ET Smithsonian
ET Smithsonian

With video games becoming easier to download online, we probably will never see anything like this happen again in the future. But it's so hilarious to know that E.T. was the 2nd alien to be seen in New Mexico...

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