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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.

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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.

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