Vintage ET Atari Video Game Arrives at Smithsonian Institute

Dec 17, 2014 06:00 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

A vintage ET Atari videogame found at a New Mexico landfill where hundreds of the cartridges were dumped when the game bombed in the 1980s has now found a new home at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Games were found earlier this year near Alamogordo, some 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque. The mystery behind who dumped the games inspired a documentary film by Microsoft Corp's Xbox Entertainment Studios.

Among black cartridges unearthed at the landfill by archaeologists were hundreds of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" games, widely considered to be one of the worst video games ever made. The game flopped since it was rushed to coincide with the release of director Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning 1982 movie, and contributed to the near-collapse of the game industry in its early years.

Three months ago, the Alamogordo City Council voted to offer some of the games for sale on eBay and on the council's own website. A few copies were kept locally as "mementoes" while others were sent to museums, according to Reuters. The Smithsonian 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 added.

The crash was an important part of the gaming industry's history since it bankrupted a number of U.S. companies, soured the video gaming experience for a lot of customers and left a huge void for Japanese competitors like Nintendo, Sony and Sega to fill.

"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 said.

The Smithsonian has no plans to put the game up for display, but it will be stored in the Video History Collection. 

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