Atari: Game Over, the documentary chronicling the excavation of Atari cartridges from a New Mexico landfill, will debut November 20 according to the film’s director.
Earlier this year I drove down to New Mexico to see the crew excavate the Legendary Atari Dump in person. If you didn’t make it down to New Mexico to stand around in the dust and wind and trash that day, you’ll get your chance to live vicariously through a documentary that encapsulates the whole event. Directed by Zak Penn, Atari: Game Over traces both the reality of the dig and the mythology built up over the years.
If you never heard the game industry’s biggest “urban legend,” it goes like this: When the video game market crashed in 1983, Atari was forced to destroy a bunch of its games for tax purposes, so it buried them in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The biggest rumor of all, of course, was that the trash pile consisted primarily of copies of Howard Scott Warshaw’s E.T., a video game so utterly mediocre it has become synonymous with the video game crash. Hell, some people even argue E.T. caused the video game crash.
Over the years the story was told and retold so many times it literally became the game industry equivalent of El Dorado. A pile of trash. Game industry El Dorado. Spoiler: The Atari cache existed, and sure enough there were a lot of copies of E.T. (though there were also copies of other respected games like Centipede). Also, it didn’t smell nearly as nice as I imagine El Dorado smells.
Unfortunately the film will premiere exclusively on Xbox Live on November 20, and there’s no word yet when or if it’ll come to other platforms. The exclusivity results from the fact that Microsoft helped sponsor both the film and the dig as part of its short-lived Xbox Entertainment Studios initiative. I have my fingers crossed we’ll see it elsewhere (Netflix?) some day in the future.
Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.