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Polybius is a (hopefully) fictional arcade game depicted in an urban legend that has spread amongst the video game community since, at the earliest, 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 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 [1] 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:


  1. (German for "Sense-Deletion" or "Sensory-Extinguishing")
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