The man who buried E.T. for Atari in 1983 recalls what happened

James Heller talks about being tasked with burying hundreds of thousands of game cartridges.

For whatever reason, the story of how a huge number of copies of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 were buried in a landfill in the 1980s became an urban legend in the ensuing decades. With a documentary crew having dug those copies up recently, reaffirming that the story was not a myth, the man responsible for putting them there is now speaking out.

In an interview with news station KBOI, Nampa, Idaho resident and former Atari employee James Heller explained he was assigned the task of disposing of roughly 750,000 game cartridges in 1983. "I had been charged with getting rid of it as quickly and inexpensively as possible and so I did. That was my job," he explained.

"There [were] many many things written: that it was done in the middle of the night; it was not. That Atari was trying to hide something; they were not," he said. "It was just my job."

As Heller explains, the dumpsite was raided by kids before cement was poured over the games that remained, locking them away forever--until a group of documentarians decided to dig them up, that is.

Heller saw an article about their intention to dig up the games last year and remarked to himself, "I did that!" The crew ended up inviting him to attend the dig, which took place at the end of April and resulted in the recovery of copies of not just E.T., but also games like Centipede, many of them in good condition.

Footage of the dig will be used as part of a documentary being developed for Xbox which will tentatively be called Atari: Game Over.

Chris Pereira is a freelance writer for GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @TheSmokingManX
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Discussion

122 comments
lilflipp
lilflipp

This reminds me of that scene from the Power Rangers movie. Remember? When they dig up the egg and all hell breaks loose.

anarky23
anarky23

Okay, now who wants to help me bury 1,000 Ride to Hell:Retribution copies? Already got the shovels ready. 

vadagar1
vadagar1

if all the bad games get buried we would run out of land space in 2 years

DarkJedi8_basic
DarkJedi8_basic

What was not mentioned in this documentary was that an alpha-code for HALF-LIFE 3 that was put there from the future. 

nobody490
nobody490

This is like opening up the Pandora's box for video games! E.T. the game was the abomination that brought on the video game crash in the 80 and now they have dug it up and unleash the curse again! This by all means, could set in motion the coming of the 2nd apocalypse for the game industry! Oh, be wary... BE VERY WARY!

g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

They just unleashed a wave of bad luck and chaos.

poopoohed
poopoohed

Where are they going to bury the mountains of unsold Xbox Ones? lol

blackothh
blackothh

I wish they would bury more games

Dark_Wr4ith
Dark_Wr4ith

No, you fools! What have you done, those should have stayed locked away from mortal minds. Now doom shall be set us all.

foqr
foqr

ET may have been bad but there were a ton of other terrible games.  Am I alone here or does anyone else really hate Raiders of the Lost Ark.  That  game made absolutely no sense at all.  I am not sure how anyone could have ever actually finished it back in the day without the modern day convenience of a FAQ or guide of some sort.  There were a lot of drugs going around at Atari in those days.  Star Raiders was always another one that puzzled me.

spartanx169x
spartanx169x

If I remember correctly that game came out near the end of that console's life cycle. So it was near impossible to give  them away with sales of the console.

howiex89
howiex89

at this rate we wont need a documentary into what happened

Brakkyn
Brakkyn

And the poor man was sentenced to Idaho for his crime.  Harsh.

Karchy
Karchy

Wow 750,000 is a lot for 1983

91210user
91210user

This is why you respected everyone no matter who they were, when you were a kid during the 80s and 90s. It shows that even the man who threw your garbage out for you with the so-called 'low paid job you don't want because it's degrading' status in this culture so you don't get invited to the most classy party and etc... I think this article proves that you can make the biggest urban legend happen to keep everyone to remember to expect the unexpected with this kind of job. 

AuronAXE
AuronAXE

surprised this isn't a Makuch article. I guess too much information

Tigerbite2
Tigerbite2

Plot Twist:  It was(is) an urban myth.  Microsoft made and buried these cartridges themselves and hired this "James Heller" to use this phony back story.

GH05T-666
GH05T-666

lol why would they just dump them in the ground?

They could have given them away for free or extremely cheap like $1

jl9537
jl9537

The guy from Prototype 2? O__o

Vodoo
Vodoo

Good... so now we know who to fine for this.

xcollector
xcollector

The media is trying to make this bigger news than it really is. If this documentary is longer than 30 minutes it will drag on forever. How long can you talk about how no one bought a game and how it was the dude's job to pay a dump site to get rid of it?

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

@foqr  I believe that was why the gaming industry crashed in North America. Too many games released that were shit and no one wanted to buy them. Which meant there was so much extra stock that nearly every game got like an 80% reduction and stores lost crap tonnes of money and went bust over night.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@howiex89 All this news is actually a service to us, since now we do not have to watch the documentary.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

@Karchy  Especially those old game cartridges. Burying 750,000 of those cartridges is, like trying to bury the Empire States Building.

lindallison
lindallison

@91210user  


Sometimes I swear IBM has let WATSON loose, trying his hand at comments sections.

foqr
foqr

@GH05T-666  They did.  I was around back then, and I remember Toys R Us selling Atari games for $5.00 and Under.  Actually I remember my mom taking me there with my $7.00 allowance and coming home with a few games. 

rad8045
rad8045

@GH05T-666 even giving them away would have been cruel to there consumers

hystavito
hystavito

@GH05T-666  Business, they can't flood the market like that, it's a bunch of issues, money, bad PR, cheapening your brand image, whatever.  Destroying excess product has been going on for ages in all kinds of industries.



Darth_Aloysius
Darth_Aloysius

@xcollector  I have to admit I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, I mean they buried some excess product cause it was crap... great? I mean were the reports of kids being driven to suicide after playing the game? Hoh! Hoh!?

lindallison
lindallison

@xcollector  


I don't think the documentary is just about the cartridges in the landfill, but the rise and fall of Atari and the early video game industry in general.  


Its part of a six-picture series about tech and society, so it should have legs.

hystavito
hystavito

@xcollector  Have you seen any reality shows or documentaries in the past several years? :)


There will probably be all sorts of dramatic stuff in it, draw out supposedly tense scenes where they're unsure if there's anything there, the finding of the first pieces, etc.

Poodger
Poodger

@xcollector Bigger than it really is? This is one of the bigger legends of gaming.

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

@xcollector I dunno. How much longer do gamespot plan to write about the Xbone?

ninjaroach81
ninjaroach81

@Dannystaples14 @foqrNot just that, but also the number of different consoles that were available that generation (Atari 2600 and 5200, Intellivision, ColecoVision, and the Magnavox Odyssey were the major ones, but there were also several smaller ones as well).  Stores couldn't stock every console and title, so they'd pick the ones they thought would sell, games like "E.T."; unfortunately, a lot of the big name licensed games were terrible (if you've every actually played E.T., you know how bad it was!).

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@hystavito @xcollector Agreed.  History Channel documentaries are half-movies, and both History and the Nat Geo channel play mostly stupid reality shows with no educational values at all.  And then you've got Honey Boo-Boo on TLC (odd, b/c TLC used to stand for "The Learning Channel", I don't know what it's supposed to mean now).


Seems like on the Science Channel and the Military Channel (or "American Heros" as they now call it, but has a wide variety of programming), are the only two true documentary stations left.

xcollector
xcollector

@hystavito @xcollectorReality shows are the biggest f*ck*ng reason why American TV sucks.

I guess you're waiting for them to act shocked about finding the first piece of plastic even though you already know they found the games. Wait for it...,  Wait for it..., Wait..., Nope! Its just a dead rat. Lets try again on next weeks episode, lol. Oh the suspense :)

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@DarkSaber2k GS will write about the Xbox probably for the duration of this console cycle, if I had to guess.

OrgeLambart
OrgeLambart

@blackothh @astryc Pitchford is legendary when it comes to false promises, I'd say in a few years he'll be right there with Peter Molyneux when it comes to broken promises and outright lies.   Check out some of the the lies he told about Borderlands 2, then you have the whole Duke Nukem Forever, and Aliens debacles.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@xcollector And I'll bet this documentary will have Major Nelson dressed up as Indiana Jones or something stupid like that, thinking they're being clever when they are just being lame.