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How a 'bug' in an educational writing game cursed at children

How a 'bug' in an educational writing game cursed at children

March 15, 2018 | By Emma Kidwell

Secret Writer's Society was an educational writing game for PC and Macintosh released in 1998 by the Panasonic Interactive Media Company.

On the surface it seemed like a regular piece of edutainment software, except for that its text-to-speech function could be exploited to read a list of obscenities to a child playing the game. 

As Obscuritory (a blog about odd games and software) points out, text-to-speech would read back what a player typed out, but under the right circumstances for the Macintosh version it repeated a string of curses instead. 

After being made aware of the problem, Panasonic pulled copies of the original game four months after launch. 

The company blamed the issue on “an undetected bug” that would accidentally read words from the program’s language filter if the computer was too slow or had memory issues.

But it wasn't a bug. Obscuritory mentions Andrew Maisel, who was the first to discover the "bug"  and reported it on his educational software review website SuperKids. He says he reproduced it on “healthy Power Macs with lots of memory.”

The actual cause? According to anti-corporate activist group RTMark, it was a case of internal sabotage. The culprit was deemed to be an anonymous programmer who worked on Secret Writer's Society warning parents on the dangers of handing their responsibilities to a game. 

“Letting a third-rate piece of software take over for you is wrong because it violates that contract,” claims the anonymous programmer. “What I did isn’t a crime. The crime is letting profits get in the way of education.”

Obscuritory provides more detail, alongside a digital copy of Secret Writer's Society(obscenities and all). Be sure to read the rest of the piece here.  

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