An L&D-style Easter Egg Hunt (with Karl Kapp)

Growing up, I always loved Easter morning. The excitement of waking up, running downstairs, and trying to find some treat-filled plastic Easter Eggs hidden around the house before my older sibling found them all.

It turns out, game designers have been hiding Easter Eggs for people too, and it’s a concept that instructional designers can adopt to enhance learning programs as well.

In this week’s special Easter-themed episode of Train Like You Listen, gamification expert Karl Kapp shares a little more about the history of Easter Eggs in games and how they can be used effectively in a learning program.

As a treat for blog readers, you may also find four different Easter Eggs hidden around this post. The first person to send me an email (brian@endurancelearning.com) that identifies all four Easter Eggs will find themselves on the receiving end of a $50 Amazon gift card. You’ll need to earn this gift card because these Easter Eggs may not be so easy to find. Look closely at the images, the transcript of the conversation (see if there are any acronyms that can be found!) and the links (is there anything weird about any of these links?). Happy Egg Hunting!

UPDATE: Congratulations to blog subscriber Laura Brown, who correctly identified all four Easter Eggs! We’ve received a lot of submissions, many of whom were able to find three of the four Easter Eggs. Although our prize has been awarded, if you’re dying to know whether or not you can find all four, you are welcome to continue sending your guesses to me!

Transcript of the Conversation with Karl Kapp about Easter Eggs

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast of all things learning and development in bite sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn with Endurance Learning joined here by Karl Kapp once again. Karl is the professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University and author of many books, mostly on gamification. One other out there on microlearning. Karl, thank you so much for joining us. 

Karl Kapp: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m very excited to be back. 

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m excited for a very special edition of Train Like You Listen because yesterday was Easter. We had all sorts of people doing all sorts of things, waking up to Easter baskets and doing Easter Egg hunts. So, today we’ll talk about this whole concept of Easter Eggs.  

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: Before we get started, as we always do, we have a six-word introduction, kind of topical. So with my thinking today to introduce myself, I would say, “becoming really interested about new worlds”.  How about you Karl? In six words, how would you introduce yourself?

Karl Kapp: So I’m thinking, “exploring, engaging game & gamification systems”. 

Brian Waashburn: And those introductions are very interesting because we’re talking about this whole concept of Easter Eggs. And embedded throughout today’s transcript, for those that are actually looking and reading through this, on the TrainLikeaChampion.blog site, you’ll be able to see this whole concept of Easter Eggs come to life a little bit more. There’s actually going to be four of them buried somewhere, so people can find them.  The first person to find and send me an email about what the Easter eggs were, we’ll go ahead and send them a $50 Amazon gift card. So, keep your eyes out for those – ears as well – but definitely this is more of a visual exercise.

We’re talking about Easter Eggs here. And before we get too far into this whole concept, because it is a fun concept, I’d love just to hear from you, Karl, can you explain what an Easter Egg is in the context of games and gamification? 

What Is an Easter Egg in the Context of Games/Gamification?

Karl Kapp: Sure. So an Easter Egg is a hidden video game feature or a surprise. And they’re often unlocked or found with certain, either key combinations, or going to a certain room or finding something, picking up certain items, things like that. The secret is they’re not really central to the gameplay. It’s kind of like a hidden treasure, a gift from the game designer to you as the player for putting in hours of work, or for figuring out a clever combination.

And so the real purpose of an Easter Egg is to reveal something surprising, unique, or unexpected to the player, that’s not really part of the game, just a sense of fun and engagement. 

Brian Washburn: And there is this whole– when you’re talking about gamification, there’s this whole concept of value in things that happen sometimes randomly.

So, like, if you can predict something, then it gets old. But when you have this, kind of, random element in there and you don’t know when it’ll pop up next, it seems like that is– that’s an element that game designers sometimes use in order just to bring in more attraction or engagement, is it? Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of randomness sometimes in games? 

The Importance of Randomness in Games

Karl Kapp: Sure. So, what happens is if we have predictable cycles of things that we are going to do, then we act in predictable patterns. And so, “ah, we know this is going to happen, so I won’t put a lot of effort in until I need to do this. Okay. Now I’ll put a lot of effort in, cause I know this is going to happen”. But what an Easter Egg does is it encourages exploration. And so if you look at Bartle’s Player Types, one of the player types is exploration. And so if you want to find those Easter Eggs you try different things: you go in different directions, you walk backwards instead of forwards, although it would make more sense to walk forward. You try to find a single pixel key, for example. 

So, there’s lots of different ways that these Easter Eggs encourage exploration. A lot of times they’re a nod back to another franchise or another event or so. Naughty Dog, for example, that does the Uncharted Drake series, which is one of my favorite series. They’ve got several nods to the name Naughty Dog right on their uniforms sometimes. And then they have a literal Easter Egg in there that’s an homage to a game that they developed before. So it’s a little bit of the programmers having fun, but it’s also a sense by the player that you’re part of it. Like you get it, like, “oh, I got this Easter Egg”. Or that you’re encouraged to search around or through the area. So it really provides this sense of engagement, exploration, mystery, curiosity; it ticks off a lot of boxes. 

Brian Washburn: And, you know, this concept really kind of came into pop culture a few years ago with Ready Player One, the movie, where they’re, kind of, searching around for these Easter Eggs buried in this virtual world. You’ve recently begun producing a series of YouTube videos about the history of various aspects of games and gamification. And we’ll get to that in a few moments, but can you talk a little bit about the history of Easter Eggs? Where did this concept even come from? 

The History of Easter Eggs in Games

Karl Kapp: Yeah, it’s fascinating. So, some people say, you know, it started in the sense of an Easter Egg hunt. And legend has it that the first Easter Egg in a video game was created by a gentleman named Warren Robinett and he was Atari 2600 game developer. He created a game called Adventure, and that was released in 1979, 1980, depending on what you research. History is not always as cut and dried as you think. But, back then the Atari game developers were really not getting credit for their work, and there was no way for him to have his name into the credits. So he tried a sneaky way. He created an Easter Egg where if you follow a number of steps you found this invisible key, which it really wasn’t a key at all. It was a single pixel and he called it “the dot”. Some people call it “the gray dot”, but “the dot” could be used to unlock a secret room that featured, basically in giant flashing words. “Created by Warren Robinett”. So you kind of found that. 

But, interestingly, there’s been secret items in video games, like long before “the dot”, even in some text-based adventure games, you had to type in your moves as you went along. And there’s a game called Colossal Cave Adventure, and that was out in ‘76. And you could type in secret words that would allow you to do things like transport from one place in a game world to another.

But recently– well, back in 2017, there was some, I guess controversial, if you want to call it. It was revealed that maybe Warren’s Easter Egg wasn’t the first in a video game. In fact, in 1977, there was an arcade game called Starship 1 and it had an Easter Egg with the message, “Hi Ron”. And then you got 10 free games, 10 extra lives. And it was funny because the secret was divulged in an interview with the game engineer, Ron Milner, in 2017. And Ron was an engineer and inventor at Atari’s secret think tank that was called Cyan Engineering. He was there from like ‘73 to ‘85. And, this is a side note, but he interestingly even programmed some of the original Chuck E. Cheese characters. Because Nolan Bush, who created Atari, also created the Chuck E. Cheese concept. So there’s a lot of inner tangle. 

So some people say that Ron Milner created the first Easter Egg. But then there’s even some more controversy that there’s a claim by fans of the game, it’s called Video Whizball. And that was released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F Game Console; F standing for “fun”. The console was interesting because it was the first video game console to use external media, like cartridges, instead of having the game built into the console and it was the first console to use a microprocessor. So, the history of Easter Eggs gets a little bit murky, like, when was the first one? And then if you even go back before, you know, game designers have snuck things in card decks and snuck things in comics and things like that.

But from a video game perspective, the first Easter Egg is somewhere around the late 1970s and depending. You know, so now there’s like “the first arcade Easter Egg”, “the first cartridge Easter Egg”.  So — (LAUGHING). But it’s just– it’s an interesting concept. 

Brian Washburn: I love this concept because it brings this concept of fun and mystery and that unexpected to life. And I think that, you know, learning can sometimes lose that in the hopes of, you know, trying to be serious and trying to get people to get new skills or whatever. I always think there’s a place for joy and for fun in anything we’re doing. Can you share a little bit more about what you think makes for a good Easter Egg or perhaps what’s been the most effective use of Easter Eggs that you’ve seen?

What Makes a Good/Effective Game Easter Egg?

Karl Kapp: Yeah, that’s a great question. What a lot of people want to do is take all of the emotion out of learning, right? They want to make it, oh, cut and dry. “You do this, and this is your performance, and that’s it.” But you know, we’re– humans are emotional creatures, so there’s an emotional intervention that occurs. So you can’t just all be rote logic. We have emotions.

But a good Easter Egg is, you know, the first thing is it is difficult to find, but it’s not impossible to find. So you want to have Easter Eggs that are capable of being found by the learners or the players. The second, from a learning game perspective, I think a good Easter Egg provides learning opportunities during the process of finding the Easter Egg.

So, if you have to learn certain pieces of information that then are used to reveal the Easter Egg, that’s a really good way of laying an Easter Egg into, kind of, a game environment. The search for the Egg actually leads to more learning in the process and leads to the learner discovering something about the learning content. I’ve also seen Easter Eggs where they unlock additional learning content. So you can do it that way as well, where you find this Easter Egg and here’s a piece of learned information and because you earned it, because it was a little bit harder maybe than some of the other things, you tend to pay a little bit more attention to it as you find the Easter Egg.  And the interesting thing that’s happening now among games and learning games and commercial games is that they now string together a number of Easter Eggs. So finding them is sort of a secret treasure hunt or solving a mystery and that can be very engaging, again, especially if you tie it to your learning outcomes and goals.

So you have the game play itself, but then you have the side game, which is the Easter Egg. And so it adds multiple layers and, you know, we as humans are very complex and we actually are intrigued by things that have multiple meanings and multiple layers. So it’s really engaging for the right folks. The interesting thing is when an Easter Egg is found or put into a game, it becomes an artifact that people socialize around; right? 

Brian Washburn: Yep.

Karl Kapp: They discuss it at forums, they speculate about its meaning, and they work to make sense of the clues. So now you’re having this– there’s an educational phenomenon called “desirable difficulty”, where it basically says that the more you manipulate and think about content the longer it will stay in your long-term memory.

Brian Washburn: Mm-hmm.

Karl Kapp: And Easter Eggs are a great example of that because you’re trying to figure out what it means and how to get there and all that kind of stuff. And it needs to be done right. It needs to have a learning path. Otherwise you’re just learning about finding the Easter Egg. So it’s a careful balance of design, but it can be done.

And the interesting thing now is that even some games, like there’s one called Trials Evolution. It’s a motorcycle racing game and it contains– actually Easter Eggs that have GPS coordinates for a place outside of the game. So it’s mixing real life and gameplay. And in that case it’s kind of like an alternate reality game where you’re crossing the boundary between the gameplay space itself and actual real life. So there could be things– if you think about a learning game, we developed a game one time where there were certain things that you had to do inside the game, but then there were certain things like you had to go talk to your boss and ask your boss, a certain piece of information. Then you had to go to human resources and then you had to bring it back in the game. Because what we were trying to do was onboard the people into the organization, giving those kind of experiences. 

So those are some ways that I think that Easter Eggs can be really an important tool, a tool for driving learning forward within organizations.

Brian Washburn: They can exist for fun and they can also be, kind of, a next level feature of instructional design. You really need to be thinking about it to get really some of those purposeful kind of experiences out of it. 

Now, I don’t want to leave here before talking about something you just started doing. You’ve just started releasing several videos in your Unofficial, Unauthorized History of Learning Games. The first one’s about the founder of modern learning and games. The second is around the connection between war gaming and serious games. You’ve talked here a little bit about the history of Easter eggs. Why do you feel it’s important for people to understand the history of practices like gamification that are being used today? 

Why Is Knowing the History of Games/Gamification Important?

Karl Kapp: Yeah, that’s a great question. So it started through, I saw it on a blog post one time a misattribution to the founding of games and I said, “well, wait a minute there’s a long history of games. They just didn’t pop up for learning in the 2000s. They’ve been around for a long, long time”. And so that really got me thinking about what history are we missing or losing and what lessons do we not know? What ground are we retreading because people did this already before? 

So I started to look into it. Because people say, “Oh, well, you know, games and corporations are new and it’s a new fangled thing. We don’t know if they’re good”. Well, find out, no, it started in the 1930s.  Then you see, “Oh, serious games is a new concept”. No, actually there’s a book written in the 1970s, literally titled Serious Games. And then, what can we learn from, you know, could we use games to predict possible outcomes? Well, no, that’s not possible. Well, guess what they were doing that back in the 1600s, and guess what they did it in 1945. And Admiral Nimitz said basically there was no scenario in World War II that the Americans hadn’t anticipated because they war-gamed all of them. So– well, except kamikazes, he said they didn’t–.

(CHUCKLING) Humans are clever, are really clever in lots of ways. So, I really think that it’s our job, if we’re going to talk about learning games and we’re going to help organizations adopt learning games, to stand on the shoulders of others and properly acknowledge and learn from what they’ve done. Instead of, you know, declaring ourselves a pioneer and running forward. What we really need to do is say, “no, this isn’t brand new, this is something that’s tried and true. And here’s how it’s worked and here’s how it hasn’t worked, and let’s take this forward and take it to the next level”. I don’t think we can get to the next level of using games for learning if we are retreading the same old ground.

So, that’s why I think it’s, it’s so important to look at the history. And like I said before, it’s hard to find the exact history, so that’s why it’s “unofficial and unauthorized” because I don’t know if it’s– you know, I try to be as factual as possible. I try to do the research as much as possible, but that doesn’t always mean that you’re able to do that. And then there’s competing views of what happened in history and I wasn’t there to talk to the people, so I like to, kind of, explore that. And then in that entire series, what I do is I bring it right back to: “What do you need to do to develop a game today?” So, it gives a historical perspective, but also applies it to what needs to be done in the future for you to be successful in creating your own learning games. 

Brian Washburn: I love that perspective of history, right? Certainly if you’re in academia you want to have the citations and you want to have all that. But for most of us who are general practitioners it’s important to know where we’re coming from, from a credibility standpoint, from not reinventing the wheel standpoint, and for not misattributing some of the work that we’re doing.

Get To Know Karl Kapp

Brian Washburn: Before we leave, I have a few quick questions as we head into our speed round. I know that we did this the first time you were with us, so I have some different questions today.

My first question is what is your favorite game ever? 

Karl Kapp: So, it’s gotta be James Bond Nightfire 007. I loved that game. It was on a PlayStation2 and it was a lot of fun. I played with my boys for hours and hours and hours, so definitely that game. 

Brian Washburn: And this next one could be video game or analog, whatever you want to tell us about this one, but what do you think is the best game to play with a group?

Karl Kapp: So it’s interesting. I’ve been playing a game called The Grizzled. It’s a board game and it’s for two to five players, but it’s designed, you’re in the trenches in World War One, and you have to work together – it’s a cooperative game – to save each other from, you know, the fate of war. And it really is an interesting game. We’ve played it several times. I don’t know if it’s my favorite because it changes all the time; every time I get a new game, “Oh, that’s my new favorite”. But that one right now is one that I’ve been playing and really enjoying. 

Brian Washburn: What game do you think is overused when it comes to adapting it for learning or training games?

Karl Kapp: So I think trivia games and jeopardy games are like way, way overused. You know, trivia games are good for recalling facts, but we want people to do more than recall facts. But I think we get stuck on those kind of games. And, you know, the game shows that we see on TV are not very overly complex. They have their purpose, but I think they’re definitely overdone.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it does not surprise me to hear that thought. I’m very aligned with that. This next one is maybe not so speedy, but I am curious, how did you decide to make games the focus of your career? 

Karl Kapp: Yeah, isn’t that kind of wild? Basically again, started with my kids, I was– we were playing video games for hours and hours. And then I was going to work and it was the early days of e-learning. Back in like 1997 is when I started working in the University and before that I was working for a company using software. And, you know, the games were exciting. The online learning was not exciting and I’m like, “we got to be able to take something from these games and add them to learning”. And so I started thinking about that, talking about that, and colleagues were like, “We’re not creating games, we’re creating instruction. We can’t teach people to program games”. I’m like, “No, no, no. We need pieces of games, not the whole game themselves. Let’s take what they do to engage people and add them into our…” and there was no word for that at the time, and so then I was researching one night and found the word “gamification”. I’m like, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Using pieces of games, and then I started doing some research to find out, well, how long have games been used? And then you find out, you know, pretty much since humans have come on earth they’ve done games. That really kind of propelled me to say, “well, wait a minute, I think there’s something here. I think there’s more to using games for learning than what we’re thinking about and what we’re doing. And wow, with computers couldn’t we take this to the next level?” And so that really, kind of, got me interested in the subject and exploring it. 

Brian Washburn: I love that story and especially the idea that, you know, e-learning itself isn’t a new concept. Going back to the late nineties, people were already getting into this and trying to figure out how to help people learn in a self-paced environment using the computer. Before we leave, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Karl Kapp: Yeah, you know, so of course the Unofficial, Unauthorized History of Learning Games. I think everybody should check that out. If you haven’t, it’s fun. I try to add a little bit of humor in it, I try to add a little bit of cartoonishness, but also keep it very grounded. So, that’s been kind of a passion project of mine. 

Then I also, you know, I’m going to eventually do one on card games and I’m involved with an organization called Enterprise Game Stack and a group of people and myself have actually formed an organization to create digital card based games. And the thing I like about digital card based games is that everybody knows about flipping cards, dealing cards, shuffling cards, your river, or your community cards.

So the overhead to figure out how to play the game is dramatically reduced. And that’s been kind of exciting to watch organizations. A couple of weeks ago, somebody said, “This game is too much fun. That’s my complaint. It’s too much fun!” So, it’s kind of nice to get that kind of feedback. 

Brian Washburn: And there are the links to all of those things that you just mentioned in the transcript and the show notes. Karl, thank you so much for joining us and for everybody who’s listening, thank you for listening. 

If you want to check us out, you can go to TrainLikeaChampion.blog, where there are four Easter Eggs that are buried in here. I’ll give you a helpful hint: one is visual, there are two that are in the context of our conversations, maybe early on, and then there is also a link that might surprise you a little bit. So be on the lookout for those.  Again a $50 Amazon gift card to the first person who will send me what those Easter eggs are. And for everybody who’s listening. Thank you again for listening. You can find us on Spotify, on Apple and on iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating. That’s how other people find out about us. Until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo today!

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