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Polybius is a fictional arcade game that was supposedly part of a secret government experiment and caused players to hallucinate, have nightmares or become suicidal.
The earliest known reference article about Polybius was first added to game repository Coinop.org on August 3rd, 1998. The original submission provided little information regarding the history of the game, aside from the description of an abstract puzzle/space shooter game named after a Greek historian that was only released in one or two arcades outside of Portland. The article also noted that the machine was regularly visited by men in black coats who would come to collect “records,” citing the account of one of the arcades’ alleged owners who suspected they were part of a paramilitary technology group. In addition, the entry included a photograph of the title screen bearing the text “© 1981 Sinneslöschen" (loosely translated as “sensory-extinguishing” in German) as well as mysterious reports of children suffering from amnesia, sleeping disorders or inexplicable trauma after playing the game. The best answer if it’s fake (IF), is that it was based off an obscure, and rare German arcade cabinet called “Poly-Play” which was a collection of eight games including a puzzler and space shooter.
The first archived inquiry about the game was posted to the Usenet group rec.games.video.arcade.collecting on February 27th, 2000. In another thread posted in the same newsgroup over a year later on April 11th, 2001, a poster named Al Kossow claimed that the legend was created by Christian Oliver Windler, known by his Usenet handle CyberYogi. However, Windler never publicly admitted to creating the story.
Would someone please shoot this story in the head? It was put there by net kook ‘CYBERYOGI’ who was also responsible for an annoying April Fools prank last year.
Two years later in July 2003, a thread about the game appeared on the Snopes] message board, where researchers arrived at the conclusion that it was not a real game. The next month, another thread was started on the Above Top Secret message board. In May 2004, the story was featured on the Museum of Hoaxes one month after a photo of a supposed Polybius cabinet was uploaded to Arcade-Museum. Also in 2004, the website The Polybius Theory was created to collect all available information about the game. A few weeks later, a member of the Guru3D forums claimed to be in possession of an emulator of the game, but later said it was an .EXE file that “simulated” a Windows directory deletion.
The legend of the game has been compiled by a variety of nerd culture blogs including SkepticBlog, Den of Geek, Cracked, Yahoo! Voices, Motherboard and Joystick. Additionally, the Internet legend was referenced in the September 24th, 2006 episode of The Simpsons in a scene where Bart enters an arcade and walks up to a machine adjacent to Polybius, which is marked as “property of the U.S. Government.”
On March 20th, 2006, Steven Roach posted a supposed explanation for the mystery about the game to the Coinop.com Polybius page, followed by a repost on the Retro Gamer message board two days later. Roach claimed that the game was created for a South American company who wanted to take a “new approach” to the gaming industry. Six days after the game’s limited release began, a thirteen-year-old boy from Portland, Oregon had an epileptic seizure while playing the game and they had to quickly pull the seven cabinets out of the arcades. Roach went on to explain the gameplay, saying it centered around a moonbase with six sets of different aliens to defeat and as the levels progressed, the game moved more quickly.
In April 2006 Roach did an interview with Gamespot (now bitparade.co.uk), but was found to have inconsistencies, as the Usenet part of his story seemed to have been lifted from the Wikipedia article on the game. It was revealed in September 2007 that Steven Roach, as well as a few other accounts that posted in the Retro Gamer thread, were all dummy accounts created by the same person.
Since 2007, YouTubers have uploaded videos claiming to be from Polybius either through remakes, emulators or “found” cabinets. As of July 2012, there are 1890 video results for Polybius.
Above Top Secret – Polybius: Myth or Government Mind Control Arcade Game
Yahoo! Voices – Polybius: A Video Game that Killed Players! Fact or Fiction?