Secret Writer's Society (found educational writing game; 1998)

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Title screen found on SuperKids' review of the game.

Status: Found

Date found: 15 Mar 2018

Found by: Phil "Shadsy" Salvador

Secret Writer's Society was an educational writing game for PC and Mac created by the now-defunct Panasonic Interactive Media Company around 1998. It gained notoriety due to a bug in the original version of the game that risked exposing players to profanity.

Cover of the CD-ROM copy. The version number was only printed on the CD itself.

This bug was described in a review of the game by educational software review site SuperKids as follows:

"Secret Writer's Society encourages young users to compose short passages. Once written, the user is supposed to click on a button labelled 'read,' to hear the computer read back the passage the child has written. This feature works fine, as long as the user (a) has written a very short passage, and (b) is not impatient. However, if the passage is a little long and the user impatiently double-clicks the read button, the program proceeds to rattle off a string of obscenities before correctly reading the passage!"

SuperKids went on to detail their subsequent meeting with a product manager at Panasonic Interactive Media, who explained the bug.

"The problem, we were told, was the result of a bug in a "filter" which was supposed to prevent the text-to-speech engine of the program from speaking any obscene words that a user might include in a passage. Unfortunately, this bug causes the program to mistakenly volunteer obscenities."

After SuperKids' review of the game, the story was picked up by other writing journals such as The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC. (These reports have since been lost.) Panasonic Interactive Media later announced that they would send replacement CDs to purchasers which would remove the bug. This fixed copy was labelled 'Version 3.0'.

An example of a passage entered in Secret Writer's Society which would produce a profanity-filled response from the program.

However, this so-called "bug" was later revealed to be the intentional product of a hack made by an anonymous programmer, who went on to claim responsibility. The hack was then revealed to have been endorsed by anti-corporate activism funding group RTMark in a press release. This turned out to be false.

The game itself was not sighted or spoken about since this short scandal and was thus presumed lost.

On March 15th, 2018, librarian[1] Phil Salvador made a copy he obtained available to the Internet Archive.[2] His article on the matter can be found here.


Video uploaded to The Obscuritory YouTube Channel (Which Phil Salvador is a part of).