Polybius, the name comes from the Greek historian who believe that historians shouldn’t report anything that isn’t verified by eye witnesses and interviews. This Greek historian shares his name with one of the oldest gaming urban legends, the Polybius stand up arcade game. This game was said to have caused seizures, amnesia, black-outs, headaches, horrible nightmares, epilepsy, and in a few of the stories suicide and the feeling that one could not become sad. Some of the people who said they played the game have never played a video game again or are anti-video game activists. Very little is actually known about this game, and there is no one around to answer any questions, which makes this legend even more legendary.
This tale begins in the early 80’s when arcades were popping up all over America due to the new video game craze. It just so happened that a few arcades in Portland, Oregon were home to a few of these machines. Some say the machine was said to be very plain, as if to lurk in the shadows. A few witnesses say that it was all black with a green joystick, while others say that the cabinet itself was a greenish color, either way the machine was very mysterious.
The game itself was said to play like Atari’s Tempest, which was a tube shooter which used vector graphics. Popular doesn’t seem to be the right word for it, but people would stand in line to chunk their quarters into this game, and it is said that fights ensued over who was next. Reports stated that men in black would come and inspect the machine, but people seem to think they were retrieving psychoactive data from the machine and sneaking it off to some dark corner of the government.
No one knows where this legend officially came from, some say that the machine was just a prototype of Atari’s’ aforementioned Tempest, which was said to cause dizziness, nausea and the like. This prototype was then pulled and fixed for an official release. Atari however isn’t saying anything, nor are any of the Arcades owners from the 80’s, so we are just left to wonder.
It was rumored that in 2011 in Newport, Oregon, a version of Polybius was found in a storage locker. The person who discovered it decided to remain unnamed and said that they recognized the cabinet due to the fact that it looked like a Pac-Man game. Surprisingly enough, the cabinet vanished, along with hopes of finally getting to the bottom of this Urban Legend.
Will we ever know the truth about this Urban Legend? Probably not, but a majority of legends are based on some semblance of truth. So the Tempest prototype being blown out of proportion is the most likely scenario. It’s nice to daydream though, and think about that huge warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant is housed. And sitting not three feet from the Ark are four or five Polybius cabinets, collecting dust just like they collected psychoactive data for the government thirty years prior.
Like this article? Feel free to peruse the rest of the growing Gaming Urban Legends series!