is, hopefully, just a fictional arcade game depicted in an urban legend
that has spread
amongst the video game community since the early 1990s.
The legend of Polybius
is, as legends tend to be, rather amorphous, and there are many different versions of the tale. The main ingredient is the game itself, a seemingly-innocent cabinet that popped up and hides sinister motives, from subliminal messages
to more supernatural
activities. Often, the game is described as playing like the 1980 classic Tempest
, but sometimes the gameplay itself isn't actually described
Early versions depict Polybius
as a vague government experiment
, presumably mind-control related in the same vein as MKULTRA and its ilk. Kids lined up to play the strange game, with mysterious men in black suits
either standing by and taking notes on clipboards, or coming by after hours to collect the data direct from the console.
Soon, the players started to experience disturbing symptoms — nausea, migraines, memory loss, nightmares, and in some retellings even "an inability to become sad". Many players swore off games altogether, with one even becoming "a big anti-video game crusader or something".
Others portray the game as more outright malevolent and possibly alive, with spooky details like occasionally not requiring coins to play, continuing to work after being unplugged/shut down
, and other creepiness. At any rate, in nearly all versions it disappeared entirely off the face of the Earth after only a month or so.
More recently, the story has spread to a new generation of storytellers
. These newer iterations include being developed by a man named Ed Rotbergnote
and being published by the shadowy Sinneslöschen note
corporation, and specific locations for its existence (usually nondescript Midwestern-y towns in Oregon and Ohio). Nightmare Dreams
, and other scariness
A couple of websites have flash games based on Polybius
, and some claim to have ROMs of the game, but fear not, Tropers! The game is almost definitely fictional ... unless it's not.
This game, and its legend, provide examples of:
- Arcade Game
- Brown Note: Sometimes the game has no more evil goals than fucking with your sensory perception. Other times, free-flowing bowels are the least of your worries.
- Defictionalization: Uh-oh...
- Depending on the Writer
- Driven to Suicide: Maybe they were upset that they didn't make it to the high score list?
- Eldritch Abomination: More recent internet-spread stories with a more overt horror style imply that the arcade cabinet may be more alive than it lets on...
- The Golden Age of Video Games: Although the legend itself popped up a while later.
- Government Conspiracy
- Manchurian Agent: One implied purpose of the game's mind-controllery.
- Meaningful Name: Polybius was a Greek historian and cryptographer. Plus, the aforementioned Sinneslöschen.
- The Most Dangerous Video Game: If it existed, it definitely would be.
- No Export for You: Needless to say, this is mostly an American Urban Legend, but, due to the Eagleland Osmosis and the "Weird Al" Effect, some parts of this legend went abroad, albeit not as a game, but as normally as anti-videogame propaganda, especially in Latin America.
- No Plot? No Problem!: We never learn of the game's plot in any of the legends, so it presumably doesn't need one.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The scariest versions of the tale are those where nothing truly horrific happens; for most, the mere thought of an arcade game being monitored by shadowy Men in Black is more than enough.
- Schmuck Bait: Admit it. If you saw one of these things in your local arcade, you'd probably be a little curious.
- Sensory Abuse: According to some tellings, the game includes lots of flashing, colorful backgrounds. Some even add that the game includes some weird optical illusions, too.
- Shoot 'em Up: According to most versions.
- Shout-Out: The Simpsons included Polybius in an arcade of "bad games", portrayed as property of the U.S. Government.
- Spiritual Successor: Many "Haunted Game" type Creepypasta stories share a lot of common traits with the Polybius legend. In particular is the Lavender Town Syndrome story which is also about a video game containing sounds/images that is said to drive anyone who plays it to insanity or even suicide.
- Subliminal Advertising / Subliminal Seduction: Sometimes Polybius wants to mess with your mind, implanting suicidal (or homicidal) thoughts into your subconscious. Other times it just wants you to join the navy.
- Urban Legend of Zelda: Played with; in this case, the game is the legend.
- Vector Game