“Polybius is a supposed arcade game featured in an Internet urban legend. According to the story, the Tempest-style game was released to the public in 1981, and caused its players to go insane, causing them to suffer from intense stress, horrific nightmares, and even suicidal tendencies. A short time after its release, it supposedly disappeared without a trace. Not much evidence for the existence of such a game has ever been discovered,” stated a Wikipedia overview of the video game. Moreover, a report by Al Eufrasio and Jeff Davis in their book “Weird Oregon” states that “Polybius was an experimental mind-control device.”
Polybius game surfaces in central Oregon, but quickly disappears again
The video game has been moved from a Newport storage space and is now believed to be in the Portland area, stated a Newport local who asked not to be named. The person described the video game by “its name on the side of what looks like an old Pac-Man arcade game.” The game’s owner is said to have interest in listing it on eBay.
News of the Polybius circulated over the Memorial Day weekend with antique collectors in Newport and up the coast to nearby Portland where the game is said to have first appeared in 1981.
According to Eufrasio and Davis, who’ve investigated Polybius for their book “Weird Oregon,” the “Polybius games appeared in only a few Portland-area arcades – possibly Beaverton and Hillsbroro.”
While Eufrasio and Davis said there’s been rational explanations about what this game was really about, they noted from their investigations in the Portland area that “it was not a prototype of “Tempest,” a game released by Atari in 1981.
“A few years ago, a person called himself Steven Roach offered another explanation via the Internet,” writes Eufrasio and Davis. “He claimed to have co-founded a German software company, hired by a South American firm, to develop a video game that would showcase an advanced proprietary graphics technology. Raod said the game was test-marketed in the Portland area because of demographics.”
Origins of the mysterious Polybius game and its name
Polybius lends its name from Polybius, the Greek historian who among his other works, was also known for his works in relation to cryptography and for developing the “Polybius square,” stated another Wikipedia reference to both the game and the origins of its name.
Moreover, Polybius was born in Arcadia in about 200 BC. He was the son of Lycortas, a Greek politician who became Cavalry Commander of the Achaean League. His opposition to Roman control of Macedonia resulted in him being imprisoned. Polybius was deported to Rome, where Lucius Aemilius Paulus, employed him to teach and mentor his two sons.
The substance of Polybius’ Histories is based on historical information, and has a feel that portrays his role as a historian. Polybius’ starts in 264 BC and finishes off in 146 BC (Polybius was born around 200 and died around 117 BC although there is no concrete evidence to support exactly when he was born). He mainly talks about the years in which Ancient Rome became a superpower.
Polybius was strange back in 1981 and even stranger 30 years later in 2011
According to the story reported in Wikipedia about Polybius, “an unheard-of new arcade game appeared in several suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981, something of a rarity at the time. The game, Polybius, proved to be incredibly popular, to the point of addiction, and lines formed around the machines, quickly followed by clusters of visits from men in black. Rather than the usual marketing data collected by company visitors to arcade machines, they collected some unknown data, allegedly testing responses to the psychoactive machines. The players themselves suffered from a series of unpleasant side-effects, including amnesia, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, and even suicide in some versions of the legend.”
Moreover, local Portland newspaper reports from 1981 report young people being turned into “zombies,” with police reporting the cause as a mysterious “arcade game.” Police at the time also noted that "it had government markings on the machine."
Also, the reference to “zombies” from 1981 pointed to people who “acted highly drunk but sober at the same time,” and police noted the arcade gamers as “having glazed looks,” and “unable to respond to questions.”
Polybius has ties to foreign governments and mind control
At the same time, it’s reported that “some players stopped playing video games, while it is reported that one became an anti-gaming activist. The supposed creator of Polybius is Ed Rotberg, and the company named in the urban legend is Sinneslöschen (German for ‘sensory-extinguishing’ is the exact translation), often named as either a secret government organization or a codename for Atari. The gameplay is said to be similar to Tempest (a shoot 'em up game utilizing vector graphics), while the game is said to contain subliminal messages which would influence the action of anyone playing it. Some people playing the game found messages like:" No imagination, obey, stay asleep, Work 8 hours, Play 8 hours, Sleep 8 hours, Surrender, Be normal, Game corrupt, No thought, Conform, Do not question the authority, among others (possibly a reference to the cult 1980s film,” stated an overview of the game in Wikipedia.
Although Polybius has captured the imaginations of many gamers over the years, experts such as Eufrasio and Davis think it could be tied to mind control experiments of the time.
Questions asked: who put the Polybius video games in the Portland arcades?
And, how were these games really used? Also, why did it disappear?
Now, some 30 years later, one Polybius game may have surfaced again in the Portland region, but who has it now and why is it a secret?
Image source of “Spacewar” from 1961 that’s credited as the first widely available and influential computer game: Wikipedia