ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of the “E.T.” Atari game cartridges unearthed this year from a heap of garbage buried deep in the New Mexico desert has been added to the video game history collection at the Smithsonian.
Museum specialist Drew Robarge made the announcement Monday in a blog post. He included a photograph of the crinkled cartridge along with the official serial number assigned to the game by the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The game was one of hundreds recovered at the city’s landfill last spring as a team of documentary filmmakers investigated a decades-old urban legend that centered on Atari secretly dumping the cartridges. The “E.T.” game had the reputation of being the worst game ever, and it contributed to the demise of the company.
Robarge said the Smithsonian has some amazing artifacts that represent big moments in video game history, including Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box” prototype for the first video game console and a Pong arcade cabinet. However, missing was something that represented what he called “the darkest days” of the early 1980s when the U.S. video game industry crashed.
He describes the “E.T.” cartridge as a defining artifact, saying it tells a story about the challenges of adapting blockbuster movies to video games and the end of an era in video game manufacturing.
“All of these possible interpretations make for a rich and complicated object,” he said. “As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Members of the film crew that sparked the dig at the Alamogordo landfill said they were excited to get the call from the museum.
“Just saying the name Smithsonian resonates throughout the world, and to be part this dig and an iconic museum like the Smithsonian with something that we created and researched and actually had come to fruition is pretty amazing,” said Gerhard Runken of Fuel Entertainment.
The documentary debuted on Xbox last month, but it’s too soon to say when the “E.T.” cartridge might go on display or be worked into an exhibit at the Smithsonian. The museum also has hard hats and a vest from the historic dig.