THE UNTOLD ATARI STORY

Edge – April 2009

Ted Dabney was the cofounder of Atari along with Nolan Bushnell. Unfortunately Nolan was the voice of the company and anything that was said concerning the company came from Nolan, whether it was true or not. Ted sold his half of the company to Nolan after two years but for the next thirty years never publicly said anything about the company.

It was Ralph Baer’s idea for me to do an article about Ted Dabney, and it was he who supplied me with Ted’s contact information. I don’t know where he got it from. At first Ted was reluctant to tell his side of Atari’s story, but after I told him about a Nolan Bushnell movie that Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company was planning, and which Ted hadn’t known about, I began to gain his confidence. I even contacted DiCaprio’s company and told them they should get in touch with Ted, but the movie died shortly afterwards.

The article turned out better than I expected. Ted contradicted many of the stories that had been part of Atari lore. I had considered asking Nolan for his side of the story but then decided that Nolan had thirty years to tell his side. Now it was Ted’s turn. But how do I know that Ted had been telling me the truth? Well this was my favorite contradiction. For thirty years Nolan had been saying how he relocated his infant daughter out of her bedroom so they could turn that bedroom into a lab. Well Ted informed me that it was his daughter who had been relocated, not Nolan’s. Approximately a year after this article was published I read an interview with Nolan where he now claimed that both of their daughters had been relocated.

This article began a long friendship I had with Ted until his death in 2018. I hoped the article would bring notoriety for Ted just as my previous article had done for Ralph Baer. But Ted wasn’t really interested in the glory. He had put the videogame industry behind him years earlier. But then in early 2018, after I announced that Ted was suffering from esophagus cancer, a group from the Smithsonian Institution asked me if I could set up for them to visit Ted for an oral history from his point of view. He agreed. And then in March, 2018 he called me because he was astounded. The Smithsonian sent a group of seven people to California to interview him for eight hours. He never realized before that so many people cared about him and what he had to say.

My only regret about this article, which the British Edge published in their special 200th edition, is that it didn’t include my byline. Edge didn’t include the byline of any of the authors, although I am mentioned on the contributor page. Even when Edge posted this article in 2018 shortly after Ted’s death in May, they didn’t mention that I was responsible for it.

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