Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs.

What are easter eggs and why do we hunt them? And how does all this affect gamers ’style of play? We seek answers to these questions with the involvement of an expert.

The last time I stumbled upon an easter egg in a game, I thought I was turning away from my chair with laughter. It seemed quite absurd for an NPC to comment on a book I knew and was notorious and then demanded from his partner to put it back on the shelf immediately. I swear, it didn’t even seem like I got XP for that mission, I was so surprised. I stared in shock at the speech bubbles, which slowly disappeared as I looked at the monitor for minutes. Two things came to me at once as I wiped my tears from the laughter. One is how unfortunate it is that I can only see this scene once with a character if I cast the mission at this NPC. The other is that I want to find more of these references to popular culture right now; that is, I will hunt for easter eggs.

Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs

But what is an easter egg?

In order to disturb the calm, I would only mention its Hungarian equivalent, the term Easter egg, for the sake of a short sentence. However, neither in video games nor in other media-related conversations is it likely that anyone would use it that way. In essence, the easter egg is nothing more than a funny or even interesting hidden message from the creators and developers of a given product (if we are talking about video games). It may be a feature that can be hidden in a particular book, movie, music, work of fine art, or even a video game. Of course, it has no particular role in itself, but if one finds it, surprise and a sense of success are guaranteed.

Of course, today, when it comes to a game or a highly anticipated piece of cinematography, you don’t even have to worry about what easter eggs are. There are plenty of websites that deal specifically with these hidden messages, and many players are the first to solve the puzzle or find the “egg.” And what’s even more exciting: Why do people have to look for such hidden things? Why is it that some players sacrifice weeks, months, or years to learn the lore of a game, go through all levels of difficulty, and explore the most secret and hard-to-reach areas? This may be due to a much deeper and more instinctive force. Namely, curiosity and man’s innate desire to discover.

Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs

Explorers in reality

When we talk about discovery and curiosity about the unknown, we can start from the premise that we have to have the desire to discover the world from an early age in order to get to know the world and grow up to become adaptable adults. And we have that desire. As a baby, we first discover ourselves and then become able to get to know our immediate environment and relatives. Then we map out the wider environment around us, so that understanding and knowing the unknown lives in us from an early age, and encourages us not to be afraid of the unknown.

Also in our childhood gaming activities – and here I am not thinking primarily of video games – it is important to be open, that is, to be curious about new environmental stimuli. This allows us to receive and respond to unknown, new stimuli that reach us. As we emerge, in addition to and instead of initial experiences related to known events, we are increasingly actively looking for unknown possibilities. We dare to step out of our comfort zone.

Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs

This process is similar to when we drop into a virtual world as a novice player and everything is new, exciting. Suddenly we don’t even know what to do. Then we slowly feel the rhythm of the game. We evolve, we strengthen, and when the given medium becomes sufficiently known, we venture further; and if we’re lucky, we’ll also stumble upon an easter egg.

It can be said that in both reality and the virtual world, one can be driven by curiosity, the discovery of new things. This driving force is instinctive: a kind of motivation that underlies human behavior. One of the defining trends in the science of psychology deals with why we can mobilize tremendous energies for certain actions. That is, what motivates us to take action. One of the best-known motivational theories that answers this question is the pyramid of needs-hierarchy named after Abraham Maslow. According to the theory he outlines, we need to meet a variety of needs in our lives to get higher and higher up the motivational pyramid and go beyond our basic needs to self-realization. And why can all this be relevant in exploratory behavior? Because curiosity, the desire to explore, is also one of the driving forces.

Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs

Explorers in the virtual world

Going back to easter eggs, if we look at video games, the phenomenon of hunting for messages or features hidden in the game is interesting not only for game developers but also for gamers. If no one knew about them, I would lose their meaning. But we are curious, and we know very well that the particular game we are playing with can hold such treasures for us. Of course, not in every game genre and in a particular game can we say that everyone cares whether it contains easter eggs or not. His person, i.e. his player, chooses what he considers important during the game. There are those who are attracted to the company in online games, or the history of the game and the possibility of immersion, and there are virtual explorers.

Distinguishing the style of play of gamers is popular nowadays, and there are many so-called player typologies. What they have in common is that they try to capture and systematize the main motivations of the players, so to answer why someone is playing with a particular genre and what gaming activities they like within it. The first model to describe player styles, which has made a big impact to this day, is named after Richard Bartle. Bartle categorized players into four types based on whether their gaming activity is characterized by interaction or active action, and whether that activity is directed at — or just against — the world or other players.

This is how the following four groups were created: performers (achiever) are active actors in the world and strive for the greatest possible performance; killers are active and offensive in nature against other players; socializer type players like to talk and cultivate relationships; the real easter egg-hunters come out of the explorer. Their style of play is characterized by their bold and reckless movement in the virtual world, they also know the most secret hiding places as their palms. They have the rarest weapons, the most special skins or items.

Pixel eggs and explorers – in the footsteps of easter eggs

We have seen from two perspectives that the desire to explore is within us. On the one hand, it is our basic human need to map the unknown, and on the other hand, games in themselves encourage us to discover every hidden corner in them. And if we want to find a hidden treasure ourselves — but we’re not “adventurous” type enough — it’s enough to ask an explorer gamer where to look. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll even take us on his next adventure.

The article was written by psychologist Fanni Bányai, who is currently a PhD student at the Doctoral School of Psychology at Eötvös Loránd University. Her research interests include the competitive strategies observed in video games and the positive use of virtually acquired skills in reality.