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Searching for E.T.

Hidden for three decades in a landfill deep in the New Mexico desert lie thousands of Atari cartridges from what is widely believed to be worst video game ever made — or so the urban legend goes.

A group of filmmakers hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery Saturday by digging up the concrete-covered landfill in search of up to a million discarded copies of "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" that the game's maker wanted to hide forever. The game and its contribution to the demise of Atari have been the source of fascination for video game enthusiasts for 30 years, and the search for the cartridges will be featured in an upcoming documentary about the biggest video game company of the early '80s.

"Bottom line, this is just trash. But there is a legend in it, we want to unlock that legend, that mystery," a spokeswoman for the public relations firm working on behalf of Xbox Entertainment Studios, one of the companies developing the film. The documentary is expected to be released later this year on Microsoft's Xbox game consoles.

The event is expected to draw hundreds of video game enthusiasts, pop culture fans and self-described geeks to Alamogordo, a small town in southeastern New Mexico that is home to an Air Force base and White Sands National Monument. A pre-dig party is planned for Friday night with Atari games and free T-shirts for the first 250 people at the site.

Whether — and most importantly, why — Atari decided to bury thousands or millions of copies of the failed game is part of the urban legend and much speculation on Internet blog posts and forums.

Kristen Keller, a spokeswoman at Atari, said "nobody here has any idea what that's about." The company has no "corporate knowledge" about the Alamogordo burial. Atari has changed hands many times over the years, and Keller said, "We're just watching like everybody else." Atari currently manages about 200 classic titles such as Centipede and Asteroids. It was sold to a French company by Hasbro in 2001.

A New York Times article from Sept. 28, 1983, says 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and computer equipment were dumped on the site. An Atari spokesman quoted in the story said the games came from its plant in El Paso, Texas, some 80 miles (130 kilometres) south of Alamogordo.

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