An Open Letter to Atari, SA and the State of New Mexico

Archaeologist Bill Caraher sorts through the excavated Atari games at Alamogordo's old landfill (photo: Andrew Reinhard).

Archaeologist Bill Caraher (r.) sorts through the excavated Atari games at Alamogordo’s old landfill, April 26, 2014 (photo: Richard Rothaus).

To:

Frederic Chesnais, CEO and Chairman of the Board
Atari, SA
78 rue Taitbout
75009 Paris
France

Auralie Ashley-Marx, Bureau Chief
New Mexico Environment Department
Solid Waste Bureau
Harold Runnels Building Room N2150
1190 St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87502-5469

Dear Frederic Chesnais and Auralie Ashley-Marx:

As you will likely recall, in April 2014 employees and citizens of the City of Alamogordo, New Mexico partnered with two media companies (Fuel Entertainment and Lightbox Media) to successfully discover, excavate, and then rebury the “Atari Dump Site” where Atari, Inc. had dumped over 800,000 video games, documentation, and hardware in 1983. A team of archaeologists was on-site during the excavation, and I had the very good fortune to be included as the team-leader.

Thanks to the incredible efforts of Joe Lewandowski at the city’s old landfill, he was able to pinpoint where to dig over the weekend of April 25, 2014. The success netted over 1,300 recovered games, which were later distributed to museums worldwide as well as to buyers on eBay. Nearly 18 months later with the documentary Atari: Game Over still streaming on Netflix and several papers published in professional archaeological journals, one might think that the story of the Atari dump is over. I would disagree.

By locating the deposit of games and gaming hardware within the context of a landfill, the Atari deposit should now be classed as e-waste. I would like to know if Atari, SA (or its holding company Atari, Inc., or trademark holder Atari Interactive), and/or the State of New Mexico have any plans to revisit the dump-site, recover the remaining Atari e-waste, and dispose of it according to current solid waste management practice?

It would seem to me to be the right thing for Atari, SA to do as part of its corporate responsibility as it (and its related companies) recovers from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and rebuilds the brand. It would also seem appropriate for the State of New Mexico to fully excavate the Atari landfill cell, removing the e-waste for proper recycling instead of letting the plastic and metal cartridges and chips continue to occupy the desert a few hundred yards from US 54 in town. Granted, laws governing the disposal of e-waste were likely enacted in New Mexico after 1983, and the dump will have been grandfathered in under old laws. Be that as it may, I should hope that the State would consider doing the environmentally responsible thing anyway.

I am also writing out of a sense of enlightened self-interest. As an archaeologist, and one who was present for the Atari excavation, I would love to be able to finish what we started, to examine and document the full extent of the Atari dump. We only reached the tip of the iceberg last year. Excavating the rest of the games would benefit archaeological science, too.

By completing the full excavation of the Atari dump from 1983:

  1. Atari, SA could improve its corporate image, build its Atari brand, and turn this into positive publicity as it restarts its interactive entertainment division;
  2. The State of New Mexico could recover and recycle (or continue to sell) the Atari e-waste, netting a positive impact on the environment while potentially recovering costs through sales;
  3. Archaeologists, garbologists, historians, gamers, and the general public would get the complete picture of the now-historic Atari burial, the first (and likely only example) of its kind.

Thank you for considering the above. I am quite willing to volunteer my time in order to help plan and complete this project.

For your reference, the original find-spot of the Atari e-waste is: 32.887941, -105.963671 at a depth of 10 meters below the surface.

Sincerely,

Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming
archaeogaming@gmail.com

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5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Atari, SA and the State of New Mexico

  1. It would seem that the right thing now is for the team that disturbed the landfill + the waste site management to complete the conversion to e-waste and absorb all costs. Especially since they have made income for selling contents. I would say this kind of letter is opening up the site to more liability than was worthwhile in trying to opt in current Atari companies to do the right thing. So Netflix income might be looked at by the EPA as part of the monies to be used in dump e-waste clean. You might want to let the e-waste do lay about longer. Or take the initiative to perform the clean up on your own first, and then accept volunteered funds from any Atari companies later. Also remember current Atari companies is not the one that made the dump run and likely not to have any legal or moral liability for previous management decisions for which they had no control.

    • Agreed. So far as I know, the City of Alamogordo recovered its costs through eBay sales of the games. The archaeologists were volunteers. Lightbox is no longer a company, so it’s unclear where Netflix and other streaming revenue are going. I do think that the financial risk should be spread around. You’re right that Atari, SA was not responsible for the dump. The dump was legal in 1983, too. I do hope the project can go forward; it will likely be just as difficult to go through all the permitting and logistics yet again, especially if Alamogordo has had enough.

  2. Pingback: Grand Challenges of Archaeology | The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

  3. Pingback: Consuming My (Reading) Feed | CUNY Games Network

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