Easter Egg Meaning & Definition

An Easter egg is a secret image, message, feature, or action that is embedded within a movie, video game, application, or other media/program. Sometimes a reference to another recognizable pop culture item, an Easter egg is often put in place purely for entertainment purposes. Other times, an Easter egg is used for efficiency, as in the case of animators who reuse characters or illustrations to reduce the number of new images to be created from scratch.

The term “Easter egg” was coined to describe such an artifact in 1980, when Atari unknowingly released its Adventure console game with a hidden credit for one of its programmers, Warren Robinett. Although the discovery of the message initially sparked controversy among Atari leaders, the inclusion of “Easter eggs” became a cultural phenomenon that would later be widely adopted by software developers, movie directors, and video game creators alike.

A user needs to know a special procedure or sequence of keystrokes to view or interact with an Easter egg.

Examples of Easter eggs

As mentioned above, Easter eggs are common in a wide range of media types. In some instances, they make a specific cultural reference. In others, an Easter egg might simply be a secret functionality or message not visible unless a user performs a series of specific actions. Here are some of the most popular Easter eggs in media and technology:

Easter eggs in software

  • Google’s products host a number of well-known Easter eggs, including the search results for “askew,” the “Lonely T-Rex” game when a Chrome window loses its Internet connection, and the ability to change the default language settings to a fictional language like “Pirate” or “Klingon” across the Google suite.
  • In Microsoft Excel 95, a user could access a video game environment reminiscent of Doom by following a series of specific, complicated steps.
  • In Apple’s macOS, typing “cat /usr/share/calendar/calendar.history” in Terminal will reveal a list of every day of the year and a corresponding significant event that took place on that day in history.
  • In the address bar of Mozilla Firefox, typing about:mozilla displays a quote from the “Book of Mozilla” about the birth of Firefox.

Easter eggs in film

  • In Disney’s Tarzan (1999), the “Trashing the Camp” scene features a tea set that’s nearly identical to the Mrs. Potts and Chip set from Beauty and the Beast.
  • In The Departed (2006), an “X” appears somewhere on the screen before a character dies.
  • Steven Spielberg’s film Ready Player One (2018) features numerous Easter eggs, including multiple overt references to Back to the Future (1985), The Shining (1980), and even the original Easter egg, Adventure, which is seen being played on an Atari 2600 toward the end of the film.

Easter eggs in video games

  • In Grand Theft Auto V, a recreation of the ending of Thelma and Louise (1991) can be seen by stealing a helicopter and navigating to Chiliad Mountain State Wilderness between 19:00 and 20:00.
  • In Assassin’s Creed 3, feeding a turkey and then entering the Konami code will change the turkey’s appearance to resemble that of the assassin’s cloak and hood.
  • In Battlefield 1, a series of intricate steps reveals the iconic house from Pixar’s Up (2009), carried away by its chimney of balloons.

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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