atari graveyard

Blank desert in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The nearest business is a Long John Silver’s. Nothing to see here, right? Would you believe that there are millions of copies of Atari 2600 video game cartridges buried under here?

It’s true. In the latter half of 1983 the Atari company was falling on hard times, closing plants and dealing with millions of units of unsold inventory being returned by retailers. The chief culprit? E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. No, not the charming (but insipid) 1982 science fiction film by Steven Spielberg–the crummy Atari video game based on it, which Atari expected to be the #1 top-selling toy of Christmas 1982. They were so confident of this–after all, E.T. was the most popular movie of all time back then, and would not be surpassed by Titanic until 15 years later–that they manufactured 5,000,000 copies of the game.

They made just one mistake: the game sucked. Most of the people who bought it returned it. Then they told their friends not to buy it.

So fast-forward nine months. The Atari company is going bust. They have millions of game cartridges they can’t even give away. The answer? Pulverize them into unrecognizable bits of plastic, line up about 20 semi trucks, and pay somebody top dollar to get the hell rid of them. This is where they ended up.

This story is so bizarre that for years people thought it was an urban legend. It has, however, proven to be true. The games will likely never be recovered–the landfill company layered over the video game dump with concrete to prevent possible looting. (An ironic fear, given nobody wanted the games anyway). Evidently that’s very unusual in the trash disposal industry. You can read more about this infamous incident here.