So.... E.T. Here in 2016 most would safely say that this rushed, attempted cash grab of a movie tie-in from 1982 is one of the worst high profile games of all time. Hundreds of thousands of unsold E.T. Atari cartridges (along with other unwanted, misfit games) were unceremoniously buried in a mass plastic grave in the Alamogordo, New Mexico desert (some of which were famously unearthed a couple of years ago).
I said most.
Back in June of 1982, I was a four-and-a-half years old. I was a boy that immediately and absolutely adored the film. I bought into the boy-meets-alien story in a big way. As a shy, awkward boy, I connected with Elliot’s joy and pain throughout the film. I worried and feared for the lost stranger he kept in his home. The little alien was like the invisible friend that lonely, deep-thinking kids conjure up in their minds. I soon had numerous E.T. products at home. Stuffed E.T’s. Wind-up E.T’s. Talking E.T’s. I developed an affinity for Reese’s Pieces and ate them by the handfuls (I still prefer them over M&Ms). I had E.T. story books (the ones that came with a vinyl record) and coloring books. Drew Barrymore’s Gertie was my first crush. I wanted to ride my bike into the night sky. As silly as it sounds, that story felt like my story. When a sub-five year-old latches onto something, they latch on hard.
So when the Atari port of the film arrived at my home one day over the 1982 Christmas holiday, I was an ecstatic five year-old boy.
Hours upon hours were spent guiding that green clump of pixels around the same few map points, avoiding the dreaded pits, scientists and FBI agents while gobbling up Reese’s Pieces and gathering the parts of the telephone needed to ‘phone home’. I really wanted that little guy to get back to his family. At that age, you don’t really care much about level design, pit collision detection, rushed production schedules, aesthetics or how much things actually make sense. All I knew was that I was in that world. All I knew was that I got to play the role of my favorite alien with the glowing heart, see Elliot now and then and get to go home to whatever planet E.T. comes from. I knew that every time I switched off the Atari, I had a smile on my face.
Looking back, was the game great? No. Probably by no stretch of the imagination. Decent? Possibly (that is in the eye and hands of the beholder), but the weight of expectations and the crippling effect the game’s failure had on Atari and the industry in its wake does not help its case. But for what the game meant for me back in 1982 and the memories I have from that young point in my life, I cannot bring myself to bash the game.
I cannot. I will not.