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Polybius | Les Hewitt

Polybius | Les Hewitt February 7, 2016 Video gaming is by no means a recent

February 7, 2016

Video gaming is by no means a recent phenomenon. Way back in the 1970s, Atari had all but cornered the market at the time with the VCS2600 console. Primitive by today’s standards of the Xbox One and PS4, it was the entertainment system to have. Video game machines also thrived in amusement arcades, taking pride of place beside slot machines and one-arm bandits popular with casual gamblers happy to indulge themselves with the odd punt.

Once video games had taken hold in appropriate establishments, titles began to spring up almost out of the woodwork. Among the more popular were Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, but others had a loyal and cult following. Some of these arcade machines have gone down in history for their mass appeal and virtual dominance of the market of that time. One machine of that generation has become a legend for an entirely different reason.

Polybius was an arcade game that made it’s initial appearance in Portland, Oregon in 1981. The machine wasn’t there for very long, perhaps a period of several months. The legend states that many gamers that played this game suffered adverse reactions ranging from amnesia to night terrors. Some were even said to have given up video gaming overall and become outspoken critics of the pastime. Despite all of these apparent problems, the game was said to have been immensely popular in it’s short existence, so much so that scuffles and altercations were said to have taken place over who gets to play it first. At times these arcade machines were tended to by technicians that wore dark suits and seemed as though they sought out something specific from within the machine. The assumption was that these technicians were connected in some way to the Government and were there purely to collect empirical data on psychological effects the game had on players. Others dispute this idea and substitute it with an idea that the game was some kind of training tool or initiation for the military – not too dissimilar to the plot of ‘The Last Starfighter’, a popular science fiction film from the early 1980s.

The first known mention of this game was made on the homepage in August 1998 by an author that chose to remain anonymous. As well as the title of the game, the game’s developers or publishers were cited as Sinneslöschen. No other details were really forthcoming and almost nothing was mentioned in regards to gameplay or even plot. However, the name Sinneslöschen can be loosely translated as sensory deprivation. Perhaps it was this that led some to insist that something was going on that more than met the eye.

Like all urban legends or conspiracy theories, there are people who do not believe a word of. In the case of Polybius, those who write it off as fantasy or an invention would be more than prepared to admit that perhaps Polybius may be confused with Tempest. Tempest was a genuine arcade game that had genuine and documented effects on a number of players within the span of a week. One suffered from his first ever migraine, another fell ill after a marathon 28 hour session and two more unfortunately died from heart failure trying to match this achievement.

Whether or not there was a real arcade game called Polybius, whether this was a misnomer of the arcade game Tempest, or whether this was just an out and out hoax on the part of the whistleblower, Polybius has seeped into more mainstream pop culture, appearing on numerous

television productions including The Simpsons (Please Homer, don’t hurt them) in which Bart is strolling through an arcade, passing a Government issue machine and The Goldbergs (The Age of Darkness) where an unused machine is being scrutinized by an unnamed young girl.

The question to the authenticity of the game has been debated by gamers since August 1981. Perhaps the clue is in the title. Polybius was a real person in Ancient Greece. This historian advocated factual integrity and the use of first-hand accounts in recording events. At that time this was seen as unconventional or a revolutionary stance to take. The same charges can be levied at the modern-day internet, where conspiracy theories and personal opinions dominate.

Is this a hoax arcade game that was invented and passed off as true? Or is this a true event that is being passed off as a hoax?




Sites pulled 6 February 2016