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E.T. Atari Cartridge Picked up by The Smithsonian Institute

by Ron Duwell | December 18, 2014December 18, 2014 5:30 pm PDT

Smithsonian E.T.

The Smithsonian Institute is your tax dollars hard at work preserving the history of America and all of its most important achievements. Naturally, this means video games because what’s more important, am I right?

The Smithsonian Institute is already home to an original Pong machine and a “Brown Box” prototype for the first video game console, both American inventions, but what about the most significant event in the early history of the American video game industry: its untimely death in 1983?

Luckily, the institute has that covered now too. Museum Specialist Drew Robarge has written a blog post on a new artifact that has just been obtained by the The Smithsonian Institute: a recently unearthed copy of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial on the Atari 2600.

“One big moment was unrepresented: the dark days of the 1980s when the U.S. video game industry crashed. 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. That’s why I was excited when we added a copy of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Atari 2600 game to our collection.”

The buried copies of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial in the desert of New Mexico were long believed to be an urban legend until earlier this year when several dozen were excavated. Atari produced millions of these cartridges fearing competition from new companies, and it banked on the success of the film’s popularity. Sadly, the game was awful after a mere five and a half weeks of development, and these unsold copies were done away with, albeit not as permanently as Atari was hoping for.

The game wasn’t the only huge crash of its kind, but because of its general awfulness and the ego behind it, it has since become a symbol of this time frame. Atari quickly lost its footing, competitors lost interest in keeping up, and that crash gave rise to a small Japanese company called Nintendo to swoop in and steal the spotlight for a solid decade or so.

The excavated cartridges were put up for auction, where no doubt The Smithsonian came across its copy. The whole process was caught in a documentary sponsored by Microsoft, and it can be seen through Xbox Live.

The Smithsonian

Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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