What is an Easter Egg in Tech?

The scoop on video game easter eggs and more

A person using a smartphone to take a picture of a bowl containing decorated Easter eggs

 Angela Rohde / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Everyone knows what an Easter egg is, but the term carries a special meaning in the context of digital technology. Learn about the evolution of Easter eggs from video game subculture to the mainstream.

What Are Tech-related Easter Eggs?

In the tech world, Easter eggs are unadvertised features that developers include typically to get a laugh out of users. Easter eggs usually serve no practical purpose other than to entertain. They may incorporate references to pop culture, or they can be obscure in-jokes among programmers.

As with real Easter eggs, tech Easter eggs are usually well-hidden, so users must "hunt" to find them. For example, people have discovered dozens of Google Easter eggs including secret games, snarky jokes, and fun animations.

The First Video Game Easter Egg

One of the earliest Easter eggs appeared in the 1979 game Adventure for the Atari 2600. At this time, video games did not include credits, so programmers were not recognized for their work. Nonetheless, developer Warren Robinett included his name in a hidden room without telling anyone.

When gamers discovered the secret, Atari executives tried to remove the hidden room from future releases of Adventure. However, after deeming the process too expensive, Director of Software Development Steve Wright publicly described the secret as an "Easter egg" meant for diligent players to discover. Atari even began encouraging developers to hide Easter eggs in their games.

The secret Easter egg in Adventure for the Atari 2600

The Konami Code: From Easter Egg to Meme

Not all Easter eggs are intentional. While developing Gradius for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1986, Konami employee Kazuhisa Hashimoto created a cheat code for his team to use while testing the game. He forgot to remove the code from the final product, and gamers quickly figured it out. Thus, the most famous Easter egg of all time was born: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

Due to the positive feedback they received from players, Konami began intentionally including the same cheat code in all of their games. For example, in Contra for the NES, entering the code allows players to start the game with 30 extra lives. Even today, many games made by different publishers include a variation of the "Konami Code" as an Easter egg.

The Konami code has since transcended video games and become part of the collective consciousness. Typing out the Konami code on various websites will cause cool things to happen, and speaking the code to Amazon's voice assistant will activate Super Alexa mode.

Microsoft Easter Eggs: Going Mainstream

As video games infiltrated mainstream culture in the mid-1990s, Microsoft began hiding Easter eggs in its software. Most notably, Microsoft Excel 97 featured a flight simulator game that could only be accessed by performing a specific sequence of actions and entering a secret code. As you fly over procedurally generated landscapes, you can see the developers' names on the mountains.

Easter eggs are now commonplace in all forms of software and media. In fact, users have come to expect them, so it should be no surprise that Microsoft included a flight simulator deep within the code of Windows 8.

More Examples of Tech Easter Eggs

Today, Easter eggs are everywhere. For example:

  • Asking voice assistants like Siri and Alexa certain questions will provoke humorous responses.
  • Other search engines besides Google include jokes and animations that can be discovered by entering specific search queries.
  • All versions of the iOS and Android operating systems contain hidden games and apps.
  • Comic books and movies include Easter eggs in the form of subtle references to other media or real world events.
  • It's possible to play knock-off versions of Tetris on the HP 54600B oscilloscope.
  • Computers like the original Apple Macintosh include hidden messages in their hardware BIOS.
  • DVD and Blu-ray discs sometimes contain secret content that can only be accessed via hidden menus.
  • Some microchips include microscopic artwork, called "chip art" or "chip graffiti."
  • The book Ready Player One is all about Easter eggs and was inspired by Adventure for the Atari 2600.