You may not remember 1982, but I do. It was probably the best year of my life (at the very least in the top three). I was 5 years old.
I remember one Sunday night my parents gathered my sister and I into our maroon Ford LTD station wagon and drove us to the movies. They took us to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. We probably begged them to do so. I mean, who could resist that garble-voiced, blue-eyed, uber-cute little alien dude? To make it even better, the adorable alien with amazing powers befriended a young boy who was close to my own age. I could have been Elliott, after all, if only E.T. had chosen me for a buddy.
I’m sure a lot of parents fell into this trap: thinking what a great family movie E.T. was. And for the most part it was, until towards the end when it morphed into something more like another Steven Spielberg film, Schindler’s List, with our cute alien hero tortured and prodded to the tear-filled horror of his loving, adopted Earth family—and every child in the audience, myself included.
Maybe I blocked the horror out of my mind, because despite witnessing the atrocities E.T. had to endure at the hands of our federal government, my memories of the film remained fond. E.T. was my favorite character ever. I had an awesome E.T. plushie. I wore an E.T. costume to school for Halloween that year.
Pushing the awesomeness of 1982 even further, Santa brought me an Atari for Christmas that year. It’s been 33 years now, but I can still almost feel the excitement of unwrapping that box and finding my very own 2600. In fact, the sound of my rapturous screams may still be well on their way through the cosmos as I write this and may one day find the ears of a ridiculously adorable alien thing who, out of curiosity, will get in his spaceship and follow the sound it heard all the way to Earth, and I’ll finally get my very own E.T. buddy to go to the bar and play darts with. Cool, right?
So I had my E.T. obsession and my Atari; therefore, the next logical piece that would complete my Holy Trinity of Awesomeness would come in the form of the E.T. Atari game. We bought it at a Toys “R” Us and I couldn’t wait to get home to play it …
I was 6 by the time the game made it to my hands. I’m sure I didn’t know what disappointment truly meant. Though now I’ve been through enough trials, tribulations and Mets’ late-season collapses (please, God, let this year not be one of them) to have rounded into a mature, cynical, critical jerkface, back then, I still had a positive outlook on life. I didn’t really know what it meant for something to suck.
I played E.T. and wandered through its perplexing environments and tried to dodge a seemingly omniscient FBI dude and fell into just about every hole imaginable with no hope of rescue. Maybe I kept playing hoping I’d find the good in it, like years later when I listened to Metallica’s Black Album over and over again, refusing to believe that my favorite band hadn’t just become the new overlords of butt-rock. It was all for naught, though, I’d learned the meaning of disappointment. Innocence was forever lost.
The E.T. game was so legendary in its awfulness that it was blamed for setting the video game industry back a few years. On Netflix, you’ll find a great documentary, Atari: Game Over, that seems to unravel that myth while also finding truth in another. Tales told of a mythical dumping ground somewhere in New Mexico that became the final resting place of all the unbought or returned E.T. video game cartridges. The story quickly became an urban legend, but no one was able to determine whether or not it was actually true. Director Zak Penn created a humorously nostalgic piece of investigative journalism that culminated in a 2014 excavation of a site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where, sure enough, a hidden trove of thousands of Atari cartridges (E.T. among them) were unearthed.
According to Rollingstone.com, those cartridges recently came up for auction on eBay. Almost 900 were sold, and they netted a sum of $108,000. The single highest selling E.T. cartridge sold for $1,535. Proceeds from the auctions went to the city of Alamogordo and the Tularosa Basin Historical Society. Hopefully they put those funds to good use. If only I still had my own E.T. game, I could’ve been a thousand dollars richer. That’s, like, two student loan payments. Luckily, by now, I’m very used to disappointment.