Easter eggs are hidden and often gamified surprises found in all kinds of media and technology, intended for consumers of the media or technology to discover through regular, accidental, or otherwise unconventional methods of interacting with the media or technology.
The original term “Easter egg” of course refers to the egg-shaped items sought out during egg-themed scavenger hunts that usually coincide with the Christian holiday “Easter”, where children run around what is usually a natural outdoor area searching for brightly colored eggs. These eggs may be literal (hopefully, hard-boiled) eggs that have been dyed various colors, hollow plastic eggs filled with treats, or even wooden carvings of eggs.
The first time the term “easter egg” was used in reference to something other than actual Easter eggs occurred in 1980 when Steve Wright, the director of software development at Atari Consumer Division, came up with the succinct phrase to describe the secret message that had been hidden in the company’s video game Adventure.
Hidden within the game, and revealed when the player sprite touches an invisible pixel on a specific screen of the dungeon, a message read: “Created by Warren Robinett.” The easter egg was inserted by the game’s designer because he had spent over a year programming the game and was frustrated by the Atari policy of not crediting their programmers in the game. So he sneaked this hidden surprise, or “easter egg”, into the experience, which Atari only found out about after Robinett had left the company, and units of the game had already shipped. Hence the coined phrase of “easter egg.”
Like the prizes of an Easter scavenger hunt, easter eggs are a nice little surprise for consumers to discover. In the realm of video games specifically, many gamers dedicate a lot of time and effort to discovering and publishing the easter eggs that they find. The popular novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline coined the term “gunter”, short for “egg-hunter” to refer to these people.
Some easter eggs are found fairly immediately upon the cover media’s release, such as the many, MANY games, websites, and other technology that have reused the infamous “Konami Code”. Any gunter worth their salt is going to try the Konami Code on a newly released video game.
Some easter eggs, however, may stay hidden for a very long time before someone first discovers them. The Guinness Book of World Records credits Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! with the longest-hidden easter egg, which took 28 years, 203 days for someone to discover, measured from the game’s release date:
“During the World Circuit rematch with Piston Hondo, a bearded member of the front row nods whenever players can counter their opponent with a knock-out blow. A similar trick was previously found when tackling Bald Bull. This latest discovery beats the previous record of 26 years, which is the length of time that it took a gamer to unlock the initials “LMD” in the Atari 400 version of Donkey Kong.”Guinness Book of World Records
We here at Rogue Signal use the lowercase “easter egg” to refer to the non-Holiday kind, and have adopted the term “gunter” to refer to easter egg hunters.
Media and Culture
To this day, the term “easter egg” has grown to include all kinds of hidden surprises found in media and technology, including video games, movies, shows, software, websites, as well as print media such as billboards, newspapers, magazines, and more.
The cultural phenomenon has grown substantially since inception. These easter egg surprises are nowadays included in so many types of media, the search for them has become a fairly common past-time for many people and many online forums exist for the discovery and discussion of easter eggs, and the practice has even made its way back into the narrative of some media. The aforementioned novel turned movie, Ready Player One, centers its narrative on gunters attempting to solve an elaborate puzzle relying on the uncovering and understanding of cryptic easter eggs.
We hope you enjoyed this little article on the creation and history of easter eggs. For more books, movies, and games that involve puzzles and easter eggs, see if you can find Rogue Signal’s hidden reading, watching, and gaming lists!