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Created by Warren Robinett

by Ethan Tussey

by Zach Whalen for IN MEDIA RES

In 1978, Warren Robinett programmed the Atari game "Adventure," and in protest of Atari's policy of excluding programmer's names, Robinett inserted a message that has come to be known as video gaming's first "Easter Egg." While there are earlier examples of this practice, Robinett's remains one of the most iconic, both for its visibility and for its motivation. In considering a politics of media archaeology, Easter Eggs strike me as a relevant piece of the video game software puzzle, especially when their message reveals something of the culture and labor conditions under which it was produced.

To consider an Easter Egg as political rhetoric, one must also consider how it reaches its audience. The video I have embedded here first demonstrates winning the game by retrieving the chalice and then shows how to access the Easter Egg. (For both play-throughs, I have already slain the three dragons and neutralized the bat.) Juxtaposing these two events hopefully demonstrates how closely the message is involved in the playable space of the game. Furthermore, the means for accessing it place it structurally just beyond the chalice, and the message even pulses with the same rotating colors as the chalice, suggesting that the signature is the real treasure which the player seeks.

One can find several examples of Easter Eggs with political implications such as the "Boy Bimbos" in SimCopter (1996), but there is yet another class of messages of media archaeological interest. Most well-known Easter Eggs hide content inside the fictive space of the game, but programmers also leave messages in game code, messages that may only be accessible with a hex editor. Some of these are apparently inside jokes (Exidy's Crackshot (1983) taunts "HELLO, BENY! IS THE TRUCK HERE YET?"), and Donkey Kong includes an implied job offer. But most of this class of Easter Egg is decidedly territorial. Defender (1980) warns, "YOU TOUCHA MY PROGRAM - I BREAKA YOU FACE!" and "KEEPA YOU HANS OFFA MY PROAGRAMA" [sic], and Shark Attack (1980) declares "If You are reading this, May the bird of paradise shit on your head."

Taken together, Easter Eggs of both sorts provide traces of individual personality within the impersonal domains of software programming. The character and ubiquity of these hidden messages, particularly in the early 1980s, make visible the otherwise invisible labor of cultural production for this vital period in media history.

Atari Game "Adventure"

Walk through of Atari game "Adventure"

from N/A (1978)
Creator: Warren Robinett
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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