Generally regarded as an urban legend, the arcade marker named Polybius appears in some US theaters in 1981. The first copies of the game are set in motion in Portland, Oregon. This game is largely inspired by the famous game of the time still known today “Tempest”, which is one of the first games in 3D wire (shoot them up vector), very fashionable genre in the early 80s with cult titles like Star Wars and Asteroids. Tempest’s action takes place in 3D tunnels, the ship moving on the walls and eliminating enemies coming from the bottom of the screen. There are also sometimes riddles and labyrinths to explore.
Polybius is immediately popular, so that long queues are formed in front of the few machines.
A recurring element of the legend is that men dressed in black frequently came to retrieve data from arcades, seemingly interested in the way customers played. It is also sometimes mentioned the hypothetical creator of the game, Ed Rodberg, and the society to which he belonged, Sinneslöschen (literally “sensory suppression”), which is sometimes presented as a secret American government organization or a name of code for the company Atari. Despite the success, players in the region would have developed strange symptoms:
Players would have become addicted to the game, forming long queues to play, some of them would have become insomniacs or have had recurring nightmares. Some would also have become amnesiac, forgetting their name or address. Some of the players would have definitely given up on other video games after testing Polybius, one of them would have even become an anti-game activist. It is sometimes said that the game contained subliminal messages aimed at influencing players’ behavior, such as “obeying”, “complying” or “not questioning authority”. More serious still, the game would have also caused epileptic seizures and some players would have committed suicide.
Anyway, it is said that a month after their appearance, the terminals of the game Polybius have mysteriously disappeared.
In this image, a small wink is thrown to Polybius by the Simpsons, with in addition the small sentence at the bottom of the machine “owned by the US government.
The evidence of this legend is rare because of the very few copies put into service at the time. Only a few photos of the terminal and the words of the site Coinop.org talking about the game as if it still exists, suggests that it is not only an urban legend.
Several Internet users claimed to own or have owned and erased a ROM of the game, but can not prove it. An amateur programmer inspired by urban legend has also created a free PC game with psychedelic graphics called Polybius in the style of arcade games of the 1980s, which is sometimes mistaken for a faithful reproduction of the Polybius legend. Some images and videos presented as extracts of the “real” Polybius circulating on the internet come actually from this amateur game.