The Afterlife of Old Media

I’ve managed to carve an hour of a my busy day to read something. So I pulled one of these strange dead tree things out of my bag and started to leaf through it. Today it was Raiford Guin’s new book Game After which chronicles and analyzes the afterlife of video game consoles and media as artifacts (). The chapter that caught my attention was dedicated to the afterlife of millions of copies of the game E.T. supposedly buried in the New Mexico desert near Alamogordo. The games was one of the worst ever produced and it was hurriedly buried when it failed to sell over the 1982-1983 holiday season, or at least that is how the history of this game typically runs.

Apparently Atari moved 9-12 semi-trailer loads from their manufacturing site in El Paso to Alamogordo for burial. Since this time, Atari fanatics, scholars, and documentary film teams have fetishized this cultural artifact and the narrative of its discard and combed the web, newspapers, and local informants for information on the dump. A few copies of E.T. leaked out of the landfill as it was covered and since then, no evidence for these games (and whatever else was buried at the nadir of the U.S. console gaming industry).

It would be fascinating to excavate this deposit as an example of the archaeology of late capitalism. Guin uses M. Thompson’s Rubbish Theory┬áto consider how these objects of desire can become valueless rubbish and then re-emerge as fetishized artifacts of cultural significance when they are no longer physically available. As archaeologists, this transformation of rubbish and discarded objects from worthless flotsam to objects of cultural significance happens on almost every dig as broken bits of pottery discarded with manure in fields gain interpretative meaning.

It’s been useful to think how this might happen with digital artifacts that are summarily moved to the trash basket on our desktops once they’ve served their purpose.

It would be even more cool to excavate those games.