Most entertainment centres that have been around for any considerable period of time will see entertainment experiences come and go alongside the games that endure such as laser tag.

This is especially true for arcade machines, which are often cycled on a regular basis to ensure the games continue to be fresh and ones people play, meaning that you can sometimes find obscure games that few people played and urban legends spread across the floor.

One of the most infamous of these is the story of a game that did not exist, named after a Greek historian and supposedly one that had powerful and disturbing effects on the people who played.

A Dark And Stormy Cabinet

The early days of arcade machines prior to 1983 were not only a golden age when some of the most famous and enduring games ever made were released to the public but also a gold rush where companies nobody had heard of could make a game and be successful.

This was the alleged story of Polybius, a game allegedly by the company Sinneslöschen (which literally translates to sense delete or sensory deprivation) that appeared alongside other machines in suburbs of Portland, Oregon, USA.

According to the most commonly cited urban legend, the game was exceptionally popular to the point of addiction far beyond other games, with fights sometimes breaking out over who would get to play next.

The game itself was described as somewhat abstract with puzzle elements and subliminal and mind-altering effects.

These players, whilst transfixed in the game, would suffer from night terrors, hallucinations, amnesia, seizures and insomnia, and a month after the game was “released” it suddenly disappeared. Many of the players would go from avid gamers to stop playing entirely.

During that month, men in black would examine the machine and note down unknown data, allegedly the reactions and responses to the game’s unusual and subliminal effects.

No verifiable cabinet was ever found and very few clues of its existence can be found prior to its publication in video game magazine GamePro in 2003.

It was seemingly named after the Greek historian who famously asserted the importance of eyewitnesses when writing history, which is amusing given the game itself is not real.

Sifting Truth From Fiction

In practice, Polybius can conclusively be stated to not exist in the form the urban legend states, with not even the slightest hint of proof despite decades of searching, no contemporary news or magazine mentions Polybius or any game like it, and a freedom of information request proved fruitless.

In practice, it is a myth made from several stories and beliefs at the time.

The government experiment part of the story was inspired by stories of projects such as MK-Ultra, a series of CIA clandestine experiments on the viability of psychoactive drugs for the purpose of mind control and gathering information that was revealed in 1975.

There were two cases of players feeling ill in a Portland arcade on the same day, one suffering from stomach cramps after a 28-hour high score world record attempt on the game Asteroids, whilst the other collapsed with a migraine after playing the unusual and abstract game Tempest.

Ten days after these stories, the FBI did raid and investigate arcades in the area, but they were investigating illegal gambling rings and were looking for tampered machines and high scores that could be proof of a covert gambling operation.

Another theory claims that the game in question was the 1984 release Cube Quest, the first real-time 3D arcade game ever made and one that used a laserdisc to produce an array of unusual effects.

Because of the laserdisc, it also frequently broke down, requiring the help of operators to get it running again.