In one of the many memorable moments of Ricky Gervais's BBC television
series The Office, troublemaker Tim encases Gareth's stapler in
Jell-O. Gareth is annoyed, and the viewer is amused, because both
comprehend the act immediately: it is a prank.
are a type of dark humor that trace a razor's edge between amusement
and injury. The risks inherent to pranks contribute to our enjoyment
This includes the risk of getting caught in the act, or the
risk that the object of the prank might become hurt or insulted. And
yet, this risk also gives pranks their social power. Because he risks
blame, the prankster affirms his relationship to the victim.
The same is true when the victim chooses to laugh the prank off rather than to
mope. If that victim chooses to retaliate later, the result is not
spite but a playful type of social bonding.
obvious connection between pranks and video games are tricks
developers play on their employers or publishers. The easter egg is
one example. An easter egg, of course, is a hidden message in media
of all kinds, from movies to games. In software, ester eggs are
usually triggered obscure sequences of commands, such as the hidden
flight simulator in Microsoft Excel 97.
easter eggs arose partly in response to the cold anonymity of the
computer, and the first video game easter egg had precisely this
problem in mind. In the late 1970s, Atari engineers created titles
for the Atari VCS singlehandedly, from concept to completion.
their undeniable role as authors of these games, the company did not
publish credits on the box, cartridge, or manual. When Warren
Robinett completed the classic graphical adventure Adventure in
1978, he included a hidden room with graphics that read, "Created
by Warren Robinett."
process of discovering the hidden message was complex and
unintuitive, although not difficult enough that it couldn't be done.
Atari learned of the prank when a 15 year-old player wrote the
company a letter about it. It was never removed from the game, and
Atari even used the gag to their own benefit, spinning
as a "secret message" in the first issue of fan magazine
Soon enough, higher-ups embraced the easter egg as
a way of deepening players' relationships with their titles. Howard
Scott Warshaw's inclusion of his initials in 1982's Yars' Revenge
was fully endorsed by management.
more controversial prank can be found in SimCopter, a 1996
Maxis title that lets players fly helicopter missions around the
cities they create in SimCity 2000. Developer Jacques Servin
secretly added speedo-clad male bimbos (Servin called them "himbos")
who would meander the city and passionately kiss on certain calendar
dates. Servin cited unfavorable working conditions as an inspiration
for the prank, and he was subsequently fired.
This was just the start
of pranking for Servin, who has since made a practice of public
interventions as a member of the subversive activist collectives The
Yes Men and RTMark.