Why I like E.T. [Hear Me Out!]
Chuck-chuka-chuck, chucka-chuck, chucka-chucka-chucka-chuck, chuck-chucka-chuck…
The little green icon slowly made its way across the screen as the numbers at the bottom dwindled. As I tried to dodge the blocky-brown FBI agent, wishing for the umpteeth time that E.T. carried a blaster, my Granny made a comment as she looked over my shoulder-
“I love hearing that little guy walk!” she said. For the next few hours she puttered around her apartment making the same little noise of E.T.’s shuffling pace across her TV screen. Her comment made me laugh, and for a few seconds I didn’t care that the FBI agent had just grabbed one of my doodads and the Scientist was making a B-line for me…
If you were a child of the 80s, E.T. wasn’t just a movie. It was a cultural tsunami. I’d battled my posterior off with my mom for permission to see it; she’d balked since the ad with ET’s skinny alien arm looked like it might be a horror-type film. Eventually she relented and I sat in the theater a day later, newly twelve years old, realizing I knew nothing about the film I was going to see. Recall this was 1982. The internet was over a decade away from spoiling the plot of every film in the world. As a result every aspect of E.T. was fresh, new and pure movie magic to me as it paraded across the big screen.
E.T. was marketed everywhere that year. Everything with E.T.’s face on it became a must-have item, and I still have happy memories connected to some of that merchandise. In the novel version of the film, Eliot created a first-level D&D magic-user named E.T. and started my 40 year love affair with RPGs. The first time a pretty classmate named Oronza ever paid attention to me was when she gave me a red E.T. t-shirt as a 7th grade secret Santa gift And then…
Under the tree, at the conclusion of a retro-fitted version of one of the scenes from the film, a little Eliot-esque boy says with wonder… “E.T….video game?”
Later that week I was at every boy’s happy dream back in the 80s…the mall. Christmas displays were there, all rigged to make a little child salivate for all the toys and joys they could imagine under the Christmas tree.
And there it was, the centerpiece at Towers: A screen with a blocky portrait of E.T., along with a beep-boop 4k soundtrack of the movie sounding throughout the store.
E.T., the video game.
Of course I bugged my mom to buy it! And when I opened it at Christmas-
Yeah, the game had its problems.
But I like E.T., and not just for the nostalgia factor. Why?
First, all the aforementioned joys and feelings I associated with the Christmas of ’82. Being twelve for many is the last gasp of actual childhood, and E.T. and Atari were both a big part of that.
Next, E.T. more than most licensed games at the time actually tried to be the movie it was based on. Fox’s Alien was a Pac-Man clone. And their take on the Atari Flash Gordon was essentially Defender in a maze. Both decent games, but nothing like the movies. Your avatar and game-goals had no similarity whatsoever to the heroes or plots of the films.
E.T. had an avatar that at least tried to look like him, and a game mechanic that showed the stretchy neck and made it a game component. Eliot was also there, along with government agents and scientists, the blooming flowers, the junk that E.T. repurposed to make into a signal transponder, and even the Reese’s Pieces made an appearance as little, dark, four-pixel sprites. And all had game functions that were analogous to the film. Eliot saved E.T. when he was ghost-white and dying. The candy gave him energy to do- well, everything. Even the pits that everyone hated still made me think of the ditch they found E.T. faceplanted down in on the morning after Halloween.
Even the things that weren’t a real part of the film had their charm. The scientist would would grab E.T. and not harm him, but drag him to Washington D.C. Miraculously he’d escape being part of an alien autopsy video every time, and end up back in SoCal by crossing the screen border-video game logic at its finest!. And E.T. suddenly being able to run like a little demon, making a noise like a castrated chipmunk singing soprano the whole way? A part of me always liked doing that to escape the incredibly, unreasonably annoying FBI agent as he tried to grab one of my junk-doodads for the umpteeth time.
Moreover, the game had a definite ending. When you ran out of lives Eliot would pace back and forth in D.C. over E.T.’s white, unmoving body. And if you were prescient enough to actually get His Wrinkled-ness home? Then you saw the same show, but with E.T. happy, healthy, and…still in Washington D.C. Well, 4k was 4k…
But most of all: E.T. had the first Easter egg I ever recognized in a video game, ever! When I’d fallen into a pit and raised E.T.’s neck to make the flower bloom…a bug of some kind suddenly sprouted wings and flew up to the top of the screen.
What the hell wuzzat?!? It happened so quickly that I didn’t recognize it as a Yar from Yar’s revenge. This was something totally new, and had to repeat to myself several times that I’d seen it to make sure I didn’t forget it or blow it off as a dream.
True, E.T. became an industry joke. Landfill fodder. It’s not on any Atari aficionados’ top ten games. Or top 100. But even though I’m not buying a copy for my Hyperkin anytime soon, I’ll always have fond memories of a time and a movie and a game that meant a lot to me. [Well…update: I just bought it off ebay…and beat it! Yay!]
And that’s why I like E.T.
Chuck-chuka-chuck, chucka-chuck, chucka-chucka-chucka-chuck…
* This article was originally published here