What is an Easter Egg? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

With as expansive and detailed as video games can become, there is much to be found through simply exploring the environments and levels of a game. Sometimes you may find an extra ammo drop, but other times, you may find a cavern that leads to a level full of cows, or a reference to Minecraft in the middle of a First Person Shooter! At least one or two Easter Eggs can be found in nearly every game that comes out nowadays, and they are essentially small rewards from the developer for going off the typical path and exploring more than the average player might. Easter eggs also have a crazy amount of variety in how they are implemented, whether they are references to the developers, other video games, or a ridiculous immersion-breaking segment of gameplay. Certain game series also pride themselves on the number of Easter Eggs they contain, with players potentially hunting for years just to find the name of a developer engraved on a stone after a series of convoluted events.

Easter Egg Origins

With Easter Eggs being a mainstay in gaming culture nowadays, there had to be a single game that did it first in order to popularize the idea of the Easter Egg (as well as the name). Various different types of Easter Eggs can be found in different games that date back to the Atari 2600, with examples including games such as Video Whizball and Starship 1 (technically the game with the first ever Easter Egg), but these were all discovered in the future, well past the release of said games. The very first Easter Egg that was discovered was in an Atari 2600 game known as Adventure.


Adventure

  • Platform: Atari 2600
  • Publisher: Atari Inc.
  • Developer: Atari Inc.
  • Release Date: 1979

Adventure is a maze-like game in which the player is tasked with controlling a square, representing the avatar whose main task is to recover a stolen chalice hidden somewhere in the world and return it to the Golden Castle. The various kingdoms in the world are guarded by dragons and bats, which can both halt the player’s progress and even kill them. However, if the player discovered a Gray Dot blending into the environment, and brought that dot to one of the Castle walls, they would enter a room which displayed the words "Created by Warren Robinett", becoming the first easter egg message found in gaming. Due to Atari's decision to not include developer names in credits, Robinett took it upon himself to include this message, which was nearly impossible for Atari to get rid of without re-releasing the game entirely and spending all of the money to create new copies. Instead, Steve Wright, software development director of Atari, decided to keep the message, and pointed out that more games should have these Easter Eggs for gamers to find and keep playing.


Easter Egg Frenzy

Wright's intuition was correct, and Easter Eggs soon became incredibly popular in the gaming world. Given their nature, Easter Eggs also have varied implementation from game-to-game, with certain Easter Eggs being more comical, while others can be creepy or downright scary. Over the years, the amount of Easter Eggs in games has also increased - largely due to the fact that games became far more expansive as time went on. Certain gaming Easter Eggs even become famous for their inclusion, with their place in gaming history firmly cemented thanks to their absurdity. A game like Red Faction Armageddon can become well known, not just because of the gameplay or story, but because one of the Easter Egg weapons that can be obtained on a second playthrough is a Unicorn that farts out deadly rainbow lasers. Another famous Easter Egg of similar caliber is the famous Cow Level in Diablo II, a level long rumored in Diablo I, finally implemented in the second iteration. After beating the main campaign of Diablo II, the player can be teleported to a level in which they must face off against hellish cows in an incredibly ridiculous homage to the community. Dead Space 2 even has the most powerful weapon in the game unlocked after beating the hardest difficulty, with the weapon being a foam finger that is shot by the main character shouting "Bang!" and "Pew Pew". These types of Easter Eggs are incredibly bizarre and break the immersion of the game for the most part, but are also humorous bits of content for players to enjoy after they complete the game the first time around and would rather have some levity on their second go.

With how many Easter Eggs are included in gaming, it's no surprise that developers jam-pack their games with various different types of Easter Eggs. One series that has become famous for the amount of Easter Eggs that they put into each installment is the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Every game has a list of Easter Eggs that blow many others out of the water for how expansive they are, while still being able to fit them into the story thematically - proving that Easter Eggs don't just have to be separate moments from the overall game.


Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

  • Platform: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 2DS, Playstation Vita
  • Publisher: Konami Corporation
  • Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
  • Release Date: NA: Nov. 2004, JP: Dec. 2004 EU/AU: Mar. 2005

Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place prior to the other two games during the Cold War, where the player must take control of Naked Snake. Snake must infiltrate a Russian base which is building a super-weapon to eventually be used against the United States. Along the way, Snake learns a lot about his enemy, as well as his now-defected mentor, The Boss, who he knows he will eventually have to face in combat. Snake travels through various different environments and faces off against many strange soldiers on his way to save the US from the terrorist threat which has been imposed upon them.

Being the third game in the franchise, as well as a prequel, Metal Gear Solid 3 is full of Easter Eggs and references to the past two games in the series, along with various others that actively change the experience of MGS3 as a whole. One of the most well-known Easter Eggs is when the player reloads a save after a specific story moment, causing the game to shift briefly from the usual stealth affair into a hack-and-slash game, explained as a dream that Snake was having. This Easter Egg was actually a nod to another Konami game which eventually got cancelled, but what was already made was added in as a nice secret for the fans. Other small references and Easter Eggs from the old games are present through radio calls with Snake's team, with one long-running Easter Egg of the MGS franchise being that every game in the franchise features a character named "Johnny". Small touches and Easter Eggs such as these help engage long-running fans of the series, while also giving more development to characters through radio conversations about Dracula or why tuxedos aren't practical for spies to wear.

Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D - E3 2011 Trailer


Easter Egg Hunt

Considering the origin and nature of Easter Eggs, it is no surprise that certain Easter Eggs will go unnoticed for years to come. These literal hunts for Easter Eggs become fuel for the entire community to search for that one little secret that the developer is hiding in order to feel a reward. A few Easter Eggs that are largely inconsequential go undiscovered for well after the game has run its course - one of the biggest examples being a Punch-Out Easter Egg that took 22 years to find. In certain scenarios, the developers even tease the community with hints that something may or may not exist - one such example is when the creators of Halo, Bungie, mentioned an Easter Egg that hadn't been discovered until 7 years into the game’s life-span, which turned out to be a simple Happy Birthday message on a loading screen. Despite being largely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, these long-form Easter Egg hunts help encourage the communities to keep playing the games regardless of age.


Final Thoughts

Easter Eggs are, just like the name implies, small hunts for players to go through in order to reach either a satisfying reward or a little wink from the developer. These secrets create a sense of connection between the player and the developers, as they implement a secret passageway or a joke ending into a game simply because they believe that the gamers will enjoy finding them out for themselves. These Easter Eggs also give games a longevity that wouldn't quite be present without them - finding a funny or interesting secret being able to motivate players so far as to replay entire levels or games.

If you have a particular Easter Egg that engaged you enough to throw you back into a game - or that you have fond memories of for whatever reason, feel free to leave them in the comments, so that others may go hunting for them as well!

Ed Moreno

Writer

Author: Ed Moreno

Aspiring SoCal writer with an unhealthy obsession for rougelite games. I can typically be found in my room, either working away at an article or playing video games until the middle of the night. When I finally decide to go outside, I love to explore and travel to see new places and experience things I hadn't prior.

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