As some of you may have noticed, I was quite quiet throughout the majority of April, making only small mention of myself by way of Mario Kart, and my highly troubled misadventures on Star Road.
I would bother explaining why I was without voice during the past month, but I think I barely understand it myself, so I’ll save you the time. Rest assured, my mind has still been predictably fixated on video games, and the odd happenings surrounding them. One of the more stand out oddities of the past couple weeks, came in the unexpected form of baring witness to a painful past being uncovered, and a long standing myth finally being laid to rest, once and for all.
Though, for anyone behind the gaming times on the rest of the myths I farcically mentioned, they go as follows:
1. Couldn’t Get It
2. Didn’t Exist
3. Complete Joke
4. Absolutely Possible
5. Totally Happened
6. Turns Out His Name Is C.G.B Spender
7. True, Apparently
I probably should have waited to give away the ending to the E.T myth, but it’s been pretty big news, even outside of regular gaming circles, so the chances are you’ve heard about it by now.
If not, SPOILERS.
If you hadn’t guessed already, I have been following the whole affair with some exuberance. I find gaming culture, by and large, fascinating. Needless to say, one of the longest standing and most noteworthy myths of all time finally being proven as true is equal parts amazing as it is astounding. Many believed the facts surrounding this supposed fiction to be entirely funny, to the point of hyperbolic jest of the game’s regularly observed quality. Though, at least since I’ve been making my rounds on the gaming circuit, the joke became more of a possible reality than a ridiculous fantasy.
Cementing once and for all, that E.T was indeed cemented over.
I wasn’t there, of course, but that didn’t stop me from feeling completely involved. The event was covered by Wired.com, with my friend Chris Kohler reporting on the whole thing. I was lucky enough to get the pictures front and center, moment to moment, in all of their hilariously surrealistic glory. You wouldn’t think people standing around in a landfill looking for something so hated it was buried out of financial rage three decades ago would be so fun, but it totally was. While the mystery surrounding the event is now muted, with the fiction becoming the reality, it does prove once and for all how toxic this game was really considered. As many before me have pointed out, E.T represented the turning point for video games in the early 80’s, with many citing it’s failings as one of the first of many that contributed to the game crash of 1983.
This discovery of the games in the Alamogordo landfill solidifies two facts:
1.E.T was figurative garbage
2.E.T was literal garbage
Not many games can brag about failing on such levels that E.T has, with some truly Herculean feats of failure for E.T to champion, and a legacy that will continue to haunt all of those involved.
At least, I thought so initially, not really giving the topic a more open approach and careful consideration. It’s been well documented that E.T is awful, truly and utterly, with few peers in it’s respective field to challenge the ultimate shittiness it absolutely represents. However, in it’s complete lack of quality, E.T ends up doing what few games ever achieve, and that’s become a cultural phenomena, one that super-cedes or at least completely obscures what the game actually accomplishes.
Which is nothing, at least, from a design standpoint.
I’m frightened to think that may in fact be a conservative estimate of the time spent in holes in E.T.
While in essence, there is no successful design to speak of in E.T, and it’s design only by proxy relates to my point about the game in some manner achieving success, I will take a second to point out the true absurdity of E.T as a game. Though I had painstakingly played the game several times before, it wasn’t until I replayed it in response to this recent unearthing did I realize the absurd truth of the matter. When I mentioned that at least 50% of the game is spent in holes in E.T, the more maddening aspect of E.T is that winning in the game looks exactly like losing in the game, with the lines of reality blurring intensely as a result.
The object of E.T, in a sense, is to fall into holes (to reclaim parts for E.T’s phone…you know, for home). Since the game is always randomized, you must fall into a large variety of holes to find said parts, which means no matter what, you must fall into holes, that may or may not be relevant to your phoning needs. With this in mind, I reinject the madness previously mentioned, as any degree of success or lack there of, looks exactly the same. Winning looks like falling into holes. Losing looks like falling into holes. Sometimes, you don’t fall into holes. Is this winning or losing? Both or neither, maybe.
I don’t think enough people play E.T for long enough to realize they’re in a hole to begin with, and that more await there clumsy/effective means of play. I forced myself to see the “win? screen”, as I wasn’t entirely sure if I had done so previously. This screen is as confusing as the journey to get to it, and only reintroduces you to the very same idea immediately after.
You must become the hole, as the holes becomes you.
Like most Atari games, there really is no end. Even the manual reminds you of your only two bleak options in ending your experience:
Again, the distinctions between success and failure are complete semantic, really only acting as a reminder of your own grasp on reality, and the existential concepts you have to deal with before you even turn off your Atari 2600. I’m not sure if I’ve sub-consciously associated the same quality with the movie after so much time with the game, though I will mention I haven’t sat down to watch the movie since perhaps my first session of E.T on the 2600. Were there holes in the film? There must have been, though none quite as confounding as the ones the game possesses, this I am certain of. I definitely don’t recall during the course of E.T (the film) that I was strangulated with intense ideas involving existentialism, though my hunger for Reece’s pieces may have entirely obscured the truth of the matter.
It all seems so obvious now.
Digressing waaaaay back to my initial point that it wasn’t the design of E.T, in it’s oddly present yet not existing glory that was relevant, but ther mere essence of what E.T has become to the masses. This is a game that achieved so much of nothing, that it ended up creating something. A sub-culture, a myriad of followers, and even one of the greatest myths of our gaming day. Through it’s nothingness, E.T achieved somethingness, which not even excellent games can brag about. Even in my musings and honesty that the game feels like no game at all, I’ve spent hours in the past week playing, thinking, writing and speculating about the sheer levels of nothingness involved.
And as mentioned, nothing in this case truly becoming something.
With my digression fully intact, I want to quote the creator of the game, Howard Scott Warshaw, who was more poignant in his opinion on the whole excavation than perhaps he even meant to be:
“When I first made this game, the whole point was about entertaining people…like this (excavation) right now behind me, and it’s still entertaining people, only now it’s not legend it’s fact.”
Which was a fascinating point, as mentioned one that has interest beyond it’s initial premise. One I’ve also heard posed before, by none other than the director of Troll 2.
Yes, I did just mention Troll 2, and I know what you’re thinking.
While I won’t even bother digging up the exact quote, the director of Troll 2 (Claudio Fragasso) pointed out that his efforts in making Troll 2 had a very simple goal, entertaining. Through, what I’m guessing was sheer willpower or tremendous ignorance, no one knew what they were actually creating when they were helping to make Troll 2, though it eventually came to be what we know it to be today. Troll 2 is much like E.T in this regard, who’s creator (Warshaw) had one simply desire: to entertain, despite any and all lack of quality.
Through a magnificent series of events that truly blur the lines of realities, we end up having a nothing that became something, and a loss that became a win. I’ve theorized before about the nature of “success”, only to conclude how success is all relative, and how one can never truly anticipate what “success” may even entail, till time has come to unearth the truth.
After my intense enjoyment of these events, and my utter disdain for E.T as a game, one last truth came into focus. E.T achieved being more than just a game, despite many arguing there was no game to begin with.