If you played Atari in the 1980s then everyone with a 2600 seemed to have a copy of Swordquest Earthworld lying around. As a much more advanced game than Adventure, it generally confused myself and my friends as to what exactly we were supposed to be doing as no one seemed to keep the manuals – these games didn’t need them we all thought. As it turned out, if you wanted to know how to play Swordquest, you needed that manual and the comic book that came with the game.
Thanks to the internet in the 1990s, I discovered that the whole SQ series was designed to be for a contest that was held when I was much too young to have participated in it. This all happened long before Twitch, League Gaming or even The Wizard where Atari had some awesome and expensive prizes up for grabs – a talisman, goblet, sword and stone that were made out of precious metals and gemstones. That news alone helped the series make sense although it did seem kind of pointless to play the game after the contests were over (at least some of the ‘trials’ you play through are interesting). But that didn’t stop a lot of speculation and hearsay from spreading around as to what happened with the prizes. The most persistent rumor was that Jack Tramiel took possession of the remaining prizes after he bought Atari and that the sword hung above the Tramiel family fireplace.
Thanks to this well-researched article at Atlas Obscura, the real story comes to light online (although IIRC, this was recounted in the book Atari Inc. Business Is Fun) as to who won the prizes and what happened with them. By the last word, the only remaining prize is the goblet while the talisman was melted down for cash many years ago. But regardless of the outcome, this is a really fascinating story in terms of video game history and one of the reasons I enjoy Atari as it was in the 70s and 80s. Definitely give this article a read!