Easter Eggs for Extra Exploration?Dec 30, 2021
by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer
Probably because of my sense of humor, or maybe because I have a high motivation for Curiosity, but the game mechanic of Easter eggs is one of my favorites.
For readers unfamiliar with the use of the term (not the eggs you painted as a child), the game mechanic of Easter eggs denotes an item, an element, or a reference that is hidden or hard to find. The kind of Easter eggs I enjoy are oddities, cultural references, or inside jokes that are tangential to the game itself.
For instance, the first known Easter egg in a video game was the 1973 version of Moonlander (not the famous message left by Warren Robinett in Atari’s Adventure ). If, instead of landing the spaceship on the moon, the player flies horizontally far enough, they’ll find a McDonald’s restaurant. We can assume McDonald’s has some meaning for the programmers. From the player’s perspective, the fact that there might be an Easter egg causes them to extend play to find it.
Many Easter eggs open up hidden levels, others change the aesthetic of the game, such as changing scene colors or catapulting rocks into cows, and still others are tongue-in-cheek communication between the programmers and players.
As a mechanic, Easter eggs promote prolonged play as players scour the region looking for, and “collecting” eggs. At times, Easter eggs become a type of currency and even a game unto themselves. Do a search for Google’s and Apple’s Easter eggs for an example. People catalogue them as if they are obscure Pokémon characters.
If this mechanic is so powerful inside of video games, how might we use it in learning experiences? Would it be possible to extend learners’ engagement with the material if they knew there might be Easter eggs hidden somewhere inside the learning program? What type of emotions might they experience when they discover an egg in a learning program?
To be clear, the power of Easter eggs is that they act as side quests in a game. A player is not penalized if they don’t discover an egg. In fact, most players will move quickly and chronologically through the game, never finding Easter eggs. It’s only the fans and nerds who will take the time to explore for hidden items.
Why would they take the time for extra exploration? There is joy in finding something hidden, and pride in knowing something that most people do not. While some eggs reward players with extra experiences or avatar skins, most of the time the reward is an intrinsic sense of pleasure and pride.
The temptation for designers of learning experiences is to bribe people to take the extra time to discover an Easter egg, or to penalize people who rush through the learning program, ignoring side quest opportunities. Both efforts diminish the power of Easter eggs. There was no reward for finding the McDonalds on the moon; it was simply delightful when a player found it.
As an example, Sententia placed an Easter egg in our Level 2 Gamification Certification. We would like people to read the narrative but understand that many L&D people skip over it in their rush to get more information. So, we place an Easter egg in the narrative. In the follow-up live session, we ask participants if they found the egg. For those who found it, we give them a special badge and praise them for being one of the dedicated few. Besides bragging rights and our praise, the joy of taking the time to discover the egg is in the discovery itself. Those who didn’t take the time to translate the French (hint) are not penalized beyond the feeling that they missed out on something.
Think about a gamified learning program that you have already developed. Are there opportunities to place Easter eggs inside of the program that might encourage more engagement or interaction with the material? Perhaps you can part the curtain or make a humorous reference to something in pop culture. Maybe there is something as obscure as a McDonalds at the end of a side quest.
I’d love to hear examples of what you’re thinking about or eggs you’ve already placed. Feel free to email me at [email protected]
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