The Other Meaning Of “Easter Eggs”: Coded Messages And Hidden Treats

When was the last time you discovered an Easter egg hidden in plain sight? If your answer involved any kind of backyard Easter egg hunt, it’s time to expand your playing field.

In the 1980s, the term Easter egg took on a new meaning that keeps the hunt going on all year—inside of video games!

What is the origin of Easter egg?

But first, let’s take a look at the original meaning of an Easter egg. This term started popping up in the 1500–1600s. As most would guess, it refers to a hollowed-out or hard-boiled egg, dyed or painted for decoration. It can also refer to an egg-shaped item, like a container or a chocolate, given as an Easter-time gift.

It’s believed that Easter eggs have been associated with the celebration of Easter since the 1200s. Lent (which precedes Easter) is a period of 40 weekdays (46 days total) of fasting and penitence. Originally, eating eggs during this fasting time was prohibited, so people painted and decorated them as part of celebrating the end of the fast come Easter. The tradition of an Easter egg hunt may date back to Germany around the 1500s.

However, the newer definition of Easter egg refers to digital technology and means “an extra feature, as a message or video, hidden in a software program, computer game, DVD, etc., and revealed as by an obscure sequence of keystrokes, clicks, or actions.” But what does a video game have to do with the springtime holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

If it’s Easter you’re looking for, visit our article on all the important facts surrounding the holiday.

Who created the first digital Easter egg?

The first discovered Easter egg appeared in the 1979 Atari VCS 2600 game Adventure, created by Warren Robinett. In those days, video-game creators received no individual credit for their work from Atari, so Robinett hid “Created by Warren Robinett” within a one-pixel gray dot on a gray background. Robinett didn’t tell anyone about the hidden credit, but a dedicated teenaged gamer found it within a year of the game’s release and wrote to Atari about his discovery.

It would have cost over $10,000 to “fix” the pixel, so Atari executives decided to leave it in. In a 2003 interview, Robinett recounts that Steve Wright, an Atari manager at the time, loved the idea of hidden surprises in games because they reminded him of “waking up on Easter morning and hunting for Easter eggs.” So, the hidden features became known as Easter eggs.

What is the famous Konami code?

Another type of gaming Easter egg is a special sequence of arrow keys and letters called the Konami Code, which acts as a cheat code. It first appeared in 1986 in the Nintendo game Gradius. Kazuhisa Hashimoto, a game programmer for Konami, found it too difficult to play through Gradius during testing, so he created the Konami Code to give the player extra power-ups. This cheat code and Easter egg has the honor of being permanently seared into the minds of video-game players around the world.

Easter eggs soon found their way into other technological sources—from DVD extras to heavily trafficked websites. Google is especially fond of these fun little surprises; if you search for “askew” in Google, the results appear tilted, and if you ask it for the “number of horns on a unicorn” it will helpfully bring up the calculator and do the math for you.

Android devices are also known for their unique Easter eggs, hidden in the About section of each version of the operating system—they’ve included everything from strange illustrations to frustratingly difficult games!

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Video games are full of visual treats, but the names can have a fascinating story, too. Learn about the name origins of your favorite video game characters.

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