I've heard about a massive amount of Atari consoles and video game cartridges (most of them were unsold copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) buried in a sort of dump in the middle of a desert in the early 80's.

Is this an urban legend or did this really happen?

  • 1
    Not quite "desert" (Alamogordo isn't in a desert) but close enough...
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:36
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    E.T. the game was so bad and so many copies went unsold that it was one of the central reasons behind the video game crash of 1983 and the fall of Atari. Hence why it has the unique distinction of being the only video game to have it's own mass grave.
    – Ryan
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:49
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    See also this rather amazing project where someone patched the game to remove the worst glitches: neocomputer.org/projects/et
    – IMSoP
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 12:08
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    There's an amazing interview with the creator of the Atari E.T. game you might be interested in reading: bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35560458
    – niemiro
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 23:21
  • When I read the title I was sure this had to be about E.T.. That fiasco was so over the top it's often considered a legend, but they got proof years back.
    – Mast
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


Yes, this did in fact happen. The game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was notoriously bad and highly criticized, and Atari sent the left over unsold games to a dump to be buried. They were buried in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1983.

There is a back story behind the mass burial as well. In 1982, Atari had created a port of Pac-Man to their 2600 console. They created more Pac-Man game cartridges than they had sold consoles to the date, confident that their sales numbers would be high, and that Pac-Man would bring in more console sales as well. However, Pac-Man was received poorly, and despite selling 7 million cartridges, Atari was left with 5 million unsold copies. When it came to E.T., creating a video game based on a movie was not a common practice at the time. Unfortunately, the game was a commercial failure, as it was so bad, Atari only sold 1.5 million of the 5 million cartridges they produced for the game.

These two big failures, in addition to the decline of videos games during this time period, left Atari with tons of left over game cartridges that they could not sell, so they decided to just get rid of them.

I found a video of them digging the cartridges back up after years of sitting underground! Some other things that were also dumped there were the consoles, some other games (such as Centipede as seen in the one screenshot in that link, as well as Pac-Man, Yar's Revenge, Defender, Star Raiders, and Space Invaders) and news articles about the event.

Reportedly, 728,000 cartridges were buried there, as stated by James Heller, a former Atari manager who was present at the time of the dig-up. He also stated that there were plans to cover the games with concrete as well, but that didn't happen. Only about 1,300 cartridges were found in the dig-up, as the rest appeared to be buried deeper than anticipated.

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    A bit more supporting details in this Ars Technica article too.
    – user973
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 15:21
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    This is just amazing.
    – pinckerman
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 15:48
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    There's actually a documentary they made about this. I can't remember the name, but I've seen it on one of the U.S. premium channels (HBO IIRC). Fascinating!
    – Matt M
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 16:16
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    Atari: Game Over produced for Xbox and available there and on Netflix (as of this comment in the UK) is worth watching about this Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 16:22
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    Link to the documentary's wiki : Atari: Game Over
    – J...
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 13:28

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