Today, just to get out of the house, we set a budget of $15 and let ourselves go out to the rummage sales. We’ve got a houseful of stuff (it’s about time for a rummage sale of our own), so we’re trying to limit how much we bring in, which means tinier budgets. We can’t risk not going out, lest we miss out on something cool.
Pickings were mostly slim for sales; we drove around a bit looking for signs and ended up at a rather sparse sale. It didn’t have a lot of clothes or kid’s toys, which is usually a good sign, so we stopped. There wasn’t too much, but the guy did have a bunch of old video games for sale. I passed on the Super Nintendo cartridges and dug through his bin of old Atari cartridges. Oh, not all the cartridges were in the bin — he had pulled out the ‘rare’ cartridges, stuff he had looked up and was worth something, and priced those separately. The bin was the bottom of the barrel: stuff that’s not worth much, and not even the gamer wants to keep it. Wifey found a Q*Bert cartridge that she wanted just for the label, but it was rather water-damaged so she passed. Two of the cartridges that I picked up had their labels completely fall off upon being touched. The guy was asking a dollar a cartridge.
I did find two worth buying though:
M*A*S*H — In 1983, Fox Video Games, Inc was one of the early 3rd-party video game programmers. Atari did their best to prevent other companies from producing cartridges for their ubiquitous 2600 console, but in 1983 they relented and, in exchange for royalties, licensed programmers the ability to write new games. The gaming division of 20th Century Fox (making them also one of the first media-offshoot game developers) adapted various Fox properties, such as Flash Gordon, Alien, and — of all things — Porky’s, along with an Atari version of their hit TV show M*A*S*H. The TV series ended in early 1983, which meant the game was released post-finale, but the game relies little on the series itself aside from setting. The videogame, according to atariguide.com, has two parts — the first uses the same sort of gameplay as many generic Atari titles: piloting a helicopter, you pick up injured soldiers or parachuting doctors(!) while avoiding being shot down. Between levels, however, sounds interesting: as a surgeon, you use the joystick to ‘remove’ shrapnel from soldiers, a’la Operation. The “soldier,” understandably looks displeased with the foreign materials inside his body, but the huge passageways through his body make removal relatively easy. The game itself isn’t particularly common, but low demand results in cheap prices. I found a few on eBay for a couple dollars, little more than I paid.
E.T.: The Extraterrestrial — If you know anything about this game, you’d buy every single one you see, too. This is actually the third copy of E.T. I’ve owned: the first copy had its original box and instructions, so it went pretty quickly on eBay for a pretty penny; I’ve still got another cartridge in the basement. Despite already having one, there was no way I was going to leave one in the dollar bin at a water-damaged rummage sale. In 1981, Atari was the king of home videogames, and they had no intention of giving up that spot; arguably, their hubris would catch up with them. They spent a bunch of money advertising two big-name games for 1982: Pac-Man and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. They had millions of each title produced, expecting enormous consumer response. Pac-Man has a reputation of being a very poor version, but today it has a nostalgia quality to it, given the frequency I hear the Atari Pac-Man sound effects used on TV. E.T., however, was an enormous flop. Like I said, the first copy I owned had its instructions included, so in interest of testing the equipment, I popped the cartridge in my 2600 and tried to play it. Oh, my lord, it was unbelievably bad. There was really no indication of where you were going, or even what your character was doing, aside from falling into holes, and there wasn’t really any way to tell whether you were in a hole or not. Gamers all over passed on buying E.T., resulting in millions of unsold cartridges in Atari’s warehouses. Atari couldn’t get rid of them at any price, so every cartridge Atari still held was loaded into a truck and driven to Alamagordo, New Mexico. When the remaindered games arrived at the Alamogordo landfill, they were crushed, buried, and a slab of concrete was poured over them to prevent anything from being stolen or salvaged. Seeing that I’ve owned three in the past decade, the scale of the returns isn’t as excessive as one might expect; there could still be hundreds of thousands of these available, even if 5 million still went unsold. Ebay has nearly a hundred of them listed for sale right now, but even if it’s not as rare as the legend might indicate, I think it’s worth a buck to carry some of Atari’s hubris around in my back pocket once in a while. Maybe I’ll even get to play it again someday.
Oh, didn’t I mention that? I sold my Atari a couple years ago — once upon a time, they were a dime a dozen at rummage sales, so I always turned around and sold them once I had my fun. After a point, they ran out, probably because I was buying them all and shipping them off to California eBayers. I guess, if the intent of going rummaging with a budget was to stop us from bringing home useless stuff, the plan failed miserably. Oh, well; I never thought I’d run across a bin of dollar 2600 games, so I may find another 2600 any day now.