Today marks the 40th anniversary of Atari dumping millions of dollars worth of unsold games in the Alamogordo desert, New Mexico.
In an event once considered little more than an urban myth, Atari drove several semi-trailer truckloads of unsold stock from its El Pasa storage facility to a nearby landfill. What was dumped included copies of E.T. (a game that is deemed by many to have been so poor it is often blamed for Atari's struggles), Pac-Man and several other Atari 2600 titles. The company had been enduring issues with unsold stock after producing more cartridges than it could sell, triggering what is known in the United States as the video game crash 1983.
"The phenomenon is over," wrote Roger Sharpe, the editor of Video Games magazine at the time. "The industry dug its own grave by thinking that all you had to do was put something in a box and the public would buy it.”
Although newspaper and eyewitness reports from 1983 corroborated the tale, many people refused to believe it was fact until 2014, when archaeologists began sifting through the trash at the Alamogordo landfill site and discovered Atari products.
The Alamogordo City Commission granted Canadian company Fuel Industries six months of access to the site to film a documentary, Atari: Game Over, which covers the whole process in fascinating detail and features interviews with Howard Scott Warshaw (developer of E.T.), Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One), George R. R. Martin (creator of Game of Thrones) and Nolan Bushnell (Atari co-founder).
"To this day, every time I see Atari: Game Over, I get emotional," says Warshaw, who spoke to Time Extension recently about his career with Atari and about living with the stigma of creating the 'worst video game' hanging over his head.
"I never really felt complete with the story until I saw the Atari: Game Over documentary. Because I had a big impact on Atari, but Atari had a much bigger impact on me. And it still does. It still resonates in my life."