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Analysis / Polybius

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Brian Dunning of Skeptoid once stated that the Polybius urban legend does have some basis in fact.

To be more accurate:

  • On November 29, 1981, 12-year-old Brian Mauro had a case of stomach discomfort, which he attributed to anxiety and all the Coke he drank, while being recorded by a TV crew trying to beat the record on playing the videogame Asteroids (he made it to 28 hours) in a Portland, Oregon video arcade. Another boy, Michael Lopez, had migraine while playing Tempest on the same day, in the same arcade. There were also 8 reported cases of videogame-related epilectic seizures reported throughout the 1980s.
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  • Ten days after Mauro and Lopez episodes, there were state, local and federal agents raiding Portland-area video arcades for there were arcade owners who had modified their machines in order to hand out cash based on the score (which was a form of illegal gambling).
  • Arcades had become dens of crime, especially for the sale of stolen goods and drugs, and truancy. The FBI started taking photos of criminals who went to arcades and even set up at least one fake arcade in Portland to catch criminals on the act.
  • The military has, in the past and the present, used videogames to train its recruits, so that the frontier between commercial and military videogames has blurred.
  • There was a German company which did make a recall of video arcade machines. In 1985, VEB Polytechnik, owned by the East German government, produced a video arcade machine called Poly Play, which was based on pirated Russian CPUs and contained clones of popular Western videogames such as Pac-Man. 1000 of these were distributed throughout Eastern Europe. Not being wonders of engineering (thus they were often in need of repairing and the cost of operating them was too high), and also there being license and copyright questions after the Berlin Wall fell, these were recalled and destroyed, with only a few surviving.

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