In the seventies before it became fashionable my father built a giant metal shredder that ate cars and spit out chunks of metal suitable for smelting. It was an interesting place but the highlight of the year was the tractor trailer full of research prototypes from Polaroid Camera. It came complete with armed guards that watched to make sure every last camera was destroyed.
I always stood and watched in case a camera fell off but it turns out I should have gone to Alamogordo New-Mexico. The Canadian studio Fuel has paid the city of Alamogordo for the rights to excavate their landfill. They’re in search of the up to twenty tractor trailer loads Atari dumped after deciding the Video Game market had crashed. It’s a story like the lost elephant’s graveyard only with a fortune of electronics instead of ivory.
It’s hard to believe now but in 1983 the market had been saturated with so much low quality product that console gaming almost died. Game giant Atari produced famously bugged games like E.T. the Extraterrestrial that are considered a challenge by gamers now but back then Atari couldn’t give them away. Returned as unsellable they filled a warehouse in El-Paso before being sent for disposal in Alamogordo.
Unlike the meticulous Polaroid Corporation Atari relied on rules against dump scavenging and the Alamogordo practice of burying the garbage every night. There may be thousands of functional cartridges, consoles, and other highly prized game history nestled safe and dry under the concrete cap of that landfill. In a landfill study conducted by the University of Arizona researchers uncovered 25 year old hot dogs and 50-year old newspapers that were still readable. Those game cartridges might be in pristine condition.
Since items like the ultra rare Columbia Home Arcade Atari 2600 go for about $1,500 on the collectors market just might be in there I wouldn’t mind getting a shovel and doing some excavating myself.
Update April 26, 2014
It’s not quite Indiana Jones but the excavation sponsored by the Fuel Industries documentary on the lost Atari Graveyard has finally begun. Heavy Machinery broke into the cap of the Alamogordo, NM landfill and crews have recovered almost pristine copies of the Atari game ET.
“We found something,” film director Zak Penn told an excited crowd at the dig site this afternoon. “We found an intact ET video game. The actual cartridge is still in there.”
If you’re not Cornmeal who is a grand master gamer you might not have ever seen the E.T. Game. We’ve come a long way gaming since then!