Depending on your point of view, a selection of vintage game cartridges recently listed on eBay are either priceless pieces of video game history and lore, or just a bunch of trash that someone is trying to hawk on the Internet. Both of these perspectives are true: it’s the cartridges’ status as trash that makes them so valuable and interesting in the first place.For decades, the urban legend said that Atari had a different solution from its competitors to a sudden slump in video game sales. While other game companies dumped cartridges on the market at low prices, Atari took millions of unsold copies of their dud of an “E.T.” game and dumped them in the desert, covering them with concrete to keep scavengers away. Thirty years later, many people didn’t believe that the story could be true, and the producers of a documentary about Atari decided to find out.
The disposal of the cartridges was national news at the time, but became an urban legend during an era when it was not possible to search and read almost every back issue of the New York Timeswithout leaving one’s couch. The desert dump site was real, and it was filled with unsold Atari titles, just as the legend said.
Now the city of Almogordo is cashing in, selling crushed cartridges recovered from their municipal dump. Okay, but who is the mysterious “tbhs575,” who has zero feedback and registered for eBay just a week ago? That’s the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, a local history museum. The city has also sent copies to video game museums around the world.
This game is one of the limited numbers recovered from the “OLD ALAMOGORDO LANDFILL”, also known as the “ATARI DUMP”. Purchaser will receive the game as portrayed in photo above, City property I.D. tag, the Certificate of Authenticity and a narrative with photos of the 1983 burial and the 2014 excavation proving the legend to be true. The seller does not represent that this item is operable; it was buried for 30 years. SOLD AS IS.
Auctions for copies of “E.T.” are now in the hundreds of dollars. The Times reported in 1983 that 14 truckloads of Atari merchandise were dumped, and there are theoretically 3.5 million copies of “E.T.” alone in the Atari Graveyard. The Almogordo Times reports that maybe 60 or 70 more copies of that game will go up for auction. After this first test batch of 100 games, they will list more, but fewer than 1,000 across the nine different titles found in Almogordo. Adding to the legend, a historical society official says that more material was scattered in dumps across the country.
The games for sale right now don’t appear to be in playable condition, but you probably don’t want to play “E.T.” anyway.
The 99 auctions listed right now are all for games recovered from the dump site. Titles right now include “Asteroids,” “Missile Command,” “Centipede,” “Swordquest,” “Warlords,” “Defenders,” “Star Raiders,” “Phoenix,” and, of course, “E.T.”
According to the TBHS vice-president, the creator of the game had been told that the unsold copies were recycled. He was present during the dig, and “had tears in his eyes” when he saw the crushed games recovered from the landfill after only 3 hours of digging.
By the way, that documentary film on Atari is coming out on November 20 from Xbox Films, which also streams on the Web for people who haven’t bought a game console since 1982.