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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 in random Portland, Oregon arcades (and/or those in various other places) that 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 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 Rotberg and being published by the shadowy Sinneslöschen  corporation, specific locations for its existence (usually nondescript Midwestern-y towns in Oregon and Ohio). Nightmare Dreams, suicides, and other scariness ensues.
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 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: Arguably, 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.
- 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
- ↑ (German for "Sense-Deletion" or "Sensory-Extinguishing")