Vintage ET video game sent to Smithsonian

Film director Zak Penn shows a box of a decades-old Atari 'ET the Extra-Terrestrial' game found in a dumpsite in Alamogordo. (Juan Carlos Llorca, AP, File)
Film director Zak Penn shows a box of a decades-old Atari 'ET the Extra-Terrestrial' game found in a dumpsite in Alamogordo. (Juan Carlos Llorca, AP, File)

Albuquerque - A copy of a vintage ET Atari video game extracted from a New Mexico landfill where hundreds of the cartridges were dumped after the game flopped in the 1980s has made its way to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The games were found earlier this year near Alamogordo, about 320 km southeast of Albuquerque. The mystery behind who dumped them, and why, inspired a documentary film by Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios.

Among the black cartridges unearthed by archaeologists were hundreds of copies of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," widely considered to be one of the worst video games ever made.

It flopped after being rushed out to coincide with the release of Steven Spielberg's 1982 hit movie, and it contributed to the near-collapse of the game industry in its early years.

In September, the Alamogordo City Council voted to offer some of the games for sale on eBay and the council's own website. Some copies were kept locally as mementoes, and others were sent to museums, including the Smithsonian, which received its copy last week.

"The Smithsonian is no hall of fame. It's our job to share the complicated technological, cultural, and social history of any innovation, including video games," one of the museum's technicians, Drew Robarge, wrote in a blog on its website.

"That's why I was excited when we added a copy of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Atari 2600 game to our collection. ... (It) personifies the video game crash that took place from 1982 to 1985," he wrote.

That crash was a pivotal point in the industry's history, he argued, because it bankrupted many US companies, soured the video game experience for lots of consumers, and left a void into which stepped Japanese competitors such as Nintendo , Sega and Sony.

"It wasn't until Microsoft released the Xbox in 2001 that an American company had successfully released a console with a considerable market share," Robarge wrote.

The Smithsonian has no immediate plans to put the game on display but will store it in the Video History Collection.

Atari is believed to have been saddled with most of the 5 million E.T. game cartridges that were produced. It was speculated at the time that the manufacturer had the games buried in the New Mexico desert in the middle of the night.

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