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A review of ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ in under 1,820 characters

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial title screen

I’m a big, big fan of “My World of Flops,” an ongoing series of movie reviews by Nathan Rabin of the A.V. Club. “Flops” conducts post-mortems of critical and commercial failures, reevaluating each film with fresh eyes. And Rabin gives every movie a fair shake (his review of Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered is, in a word, generous), ultimately grading each film as a “failure,” a “fiasco,” or a “secret success.”

I have always held that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the 2600 is a “secret success” (Kevin agrees), and when Rabin first announced to Twitter that he was going to score the video game for “My World of Flops,” I was floored with delight.

For one, this is the first time a video game has ever made it to “Flops,” and E.T.’s notoriety certainly qualifies it for inclusion. For another, the “Flops” series was only meant to last a single year; not only has it endured, it has spiraled out of control! Video games! Licensed video games! What next?

So I was totally thrilled when Rabin tweeted that his review is complete:

@nathanrabin I just turned in my first, and possibly last game-themed My World of Flops piece on Atari’s E.T. It is less than glowing.

In an effort to rally interest in Rabin’s upcoming E.T. review, I took to Twitter to inflict my own opinion of the game on everybody. There are a lot of inactive verbs. The whole thing could stand a rewrite.

Here, now, and unedited for posterity (mostly), are my E.T. tweets.

jennatar In honor of E.T. (Atari 2600, 1982) making it onto @nathanrabin’s Flops, here is my GLOWING review, presented one painful line at a time.

jennatar E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is about an extra-terrestrial named E.T.

jennatar In it, you play ET. You are trying to assemble an “interplanetary” phone, because you believe in liberties and that VOIP ought to be free.

jennatar In the game, your only ally is a 10-year-old child named Elliott, here rendered in stark, rudimentary pixels.

jennatar In the film, Elliott’s idealism and childlike naïveté are tested when Spielberg replaces all the guns with walkie-talkies.

jennatar Your adversaries, alas, are numerous. There are, for instance, a number of gov’t agents who are trying to strip-search you.

jennatar There are also scientists, no doubt working for Big Pharma, who probably want to capitalize on your organs and turn you into the latest pill

jennatar Despite all that, your greatest obstacle, poor ET, is yourself. Yes, the landscape is riddled with enormous pits. Step carefully, ET!

jennatar You could become a captive—by your own hand!—in one of these deep furrows, which itself is a metaphor for the “liminality”

jennatar For you are a stranger in a strange land, stretching yourself across space and time in search of a moment of connection, and small candies

jennatar It is during these liminal fugues, when ET is lower than ground itself, that most players, disgusted, switch the Atari off.

nathanrabin @jennatar Color me impressed. Beats the hell out of my infinitely more verbose take.

jennatar @nathanrabin Shh! Not yet; I’m not finished.

jennatar That players leave w/out finishing—that is, without making “contact” with “home”—is a potent metaphor for a collective lack of agency.

jennatar Finally, the graphics are OK but maybe the framerate could have been better. I’m not sure the 2600 is being pushed to its full potential 3/5

P.S. This E.T. “strategies” video rules (thanks, Andrew!).

4 responses to “A review of ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ in under 1,820 characters” »

  1. PK says:

    “Find me a better system. If you think IGF judging “doesn’t work,” find me a better system, where the finest minds, the best writers and developers, are critiquing your work in a meaningful way. Really! I mean it! Find me a better one and I will lay off. I’ll just go. In fact, I’ll never write about videogames again. I’m not kidding: this is the plan.”
    ~Jenn Frank

    “”Hi Jenn,

    I’ll take your challenge of coming up with a better system. How about a system of staggered deadlines? I don’t know how long the judging period is, but if the judging window had, say, 3 deadlines, with a specific block of games due each interval, it sounds like it would at least help with the apparent problem of many judges waiting until the last minute to do reviews. It’s even been scientifically shown that spacing out deadlines can have a significant impact on countering procrastination : http://duke.edu/~dandan/Papers/deadlines.pdf

    I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re not the only judge ‘cramming games at zero hour’. I’m also going to guess that the games that get played first (possibly a few days before the deadline) will be the ones that the judges have already heard about, leaving judges with more time to explore the game, contributing towards the perceived bias towards established games in the IGF. I don’t mean this as a backhanded slight against your impartiality, but merely an observation that most people, faced with time pressure and the stress of other games not installing, will likely have lower tolerance for games that don’t interest them immediately. I think it’s simply human nature, and unfortunately, it contributes towards the IGF’s perceived bias against unknown games.

    In short, I think it’s reasonable to expect that judges review all the games that they are assigned, so long as those games install correctly. However, some judges put off reviewing many games until the last minute, and therefore wind up ignoring some games, likely, the ones they’ve never heard about. By introducing a staggered deadline schedule, the IGF could at least ameliorate this problem. “”
    ~~Alan Chatham
    And again in the coments:

    “I think this is a terrific idea.”
    ~Jen Frank

    • Jenn Frank says:


      Hooohhhkaaaay, so you’re saying parody tweet reviews of 30-year-old games are also out. There’s no way to win with you!

      ETA: Ha, ha, I “quit my day job” so I could try to write about games all the time, and then that went up and yeah I really painted myself in a corner there. Fortunately I haven’t published one thing since then, and I’ve barely posted here, so yeah, I mostly made good on my word so far!

  2. PK says:

    ”[...]In fact, I’ll never write about videogames again. I’m not kidding: this is the plan”

    After a diatribe of such epic proportions, after which you post a follow-up article here outlining how you’re not sorry for it (after you’ve supposedly had a chance to reflect, outside the heat of the moment), no I don’t really expect for you to follow up on your word. I’m really just hoping to point out your hypocrisy/ lack of compunction.

    In an ideal world, yes, you truly would stop posting online about video games, indeed stop writing about them entirely. You would have meant what you said. There is enough ‘shock’ journalism to go around without you adding to it. Moreover, there’s enough juveniles making the video game industry look bad by association. It is probably too much to ask that one, at least, should take her leave.

    At the very least, it seems fair that you should be followed by the fallout of an article done in such poor taste for the foreseeable future.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      When one writes anything at all, PK, one takes a stance; otherwise the essay/op-ed/whatever is middling.

      I mention this in my (forthcoming!) review of Anna Anthropy’s book, but here, I’ll show my hand anyway. Rolling Stone interviewed Howard Zinn in the mid-90s—I was in high school—and they asked him whether he agreed that his People’s History of the United States is biased. He was like, of course it is! It’s all bias! Of course there is a slant! Of course it is extreme! On its own, without context, it’s worthless; instead, it’s intended to supplement the rest of the conversation so that we can begin to approach a more truthful picture.

      You’re free to disagree that I contributed to any sort of conversation: for my own part, and after reflection, I decided I was happy with the result, whether or not you choose to see it as “fallout.”

      You’re welcome to feel that my defense of the IGF was “tasteless”—in kind, I hardly feel my adamance was particularly “shocking” or my attitude so extreme—but this really is my personal blog, and your argument might be better supported if you’d put it, I don’t know, on the relevant post, or at least on a post not having to do with E.T. Unless you thought it would be more visible here? I don’t think I have so enormous a readership.

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