Gamebusters returns: The myth of Polybius
It’s been a while, but it’s time to tackle another video gaming myth and determine if there is any truth to it. This week, we’ll be taking on a game called Polybius. We’ll be seperating the myth into two sections; history then the reveal of whether the game/myth has truth to it or is just a myth.
The history: According to rumor, a strange, unheard-of arcade game similar to the game Tempest appeared in Portland, Oregon back in 1981. This game was incredibly popular, even to the point of addiction, and lines formed around the machines. It was so popular, in fact, that many times gamers would begin fighting over who got to play the game next.
As the game’s popularity increased, men in black began visiting the machines. This wasn’t all that rare, as company visitors would tend to collect marketing data, however these men seemed to be collecting other, unknown data. Rumor suggests that this data is actually testing responses to the psychoactive machines.
Some versions of the legend of Polybius state that many players of the game suffered rather unpleasant side effects, such as amnesia, insomnia, nightmares, and night terrors. In addition, some even committed suicide after playing the game. Other players stopped playing video games entirely, with at least one reportedly becoming an antigaming activist.
Many wonder what in the game could possibly cause such effects. The rumor goes that the subliminal messages contained within the game were so powerful that they would affect the behavior of those who played it.
The game’s supposed creator is a man named Ed Rotberg, who worked for a company called Sinneslöschen (for those wondering, the German word means, “deletion/erasure of senses”). Just what this company is varies by the teller. Some state that it is a secret government agency. Others simply believe it is a codename used by Atari.
Myth or fact? Myth. Though we’ve searched for any first-hands accounts, we came up empty. We’ve found many that claim to be friends of people who had siblings affected by Polybius (and other similar stories), but no first-hand witnesses came forward. We also found no rom of the game anywhere. The search was made a bit more difficult due to the fact that some have built their own Polybius cabinents after learning of the story.
What are your thoughts on this gaming myth? Do you believe our judgement is correct, or do you believe that a cover-up was just so complete we couldn’t find the evidence needed?
If you have any myths you want us to try to tackle, please let us know in the comments.