Polybius is a legendary arcade game named for a Greek historian who may or may not have actually existed. As it appeared and disappeared without much fanfare in the early 1980s, its story has been largely relegated to the world of urban legend. Yet there is a very large vocal fan base of increasingly senile people who claim the game did and still does exist.
In 1981, Polybius games began appearing in arcades in the Portland, Oregon area. They attracted immediate interest as shooter-type games were quite popular at the time. It was also quickly found that players would experience extreme headaches, nausea, memory loss, nightmares and worse, exactly what was expected by 9-year-olds of any arcade game of the period. Arcade owners found this to be a blessing, as it distracted normally nosy kids from discovering their narcotics, child slavery and illegal weapons side businesses.
However, parents stopping by arcades to buy drugs, weapons or to sell their child began to notice some disturbing things. One phenomenon was the Men in Black, or more specifically the Midgets in Black, adults trying to pass themselves off as children while apparently recording the effects of Polybius on players. Things came to a head when Archbishop Pedro Behr of the local Catholic archdiocese visited a Laurelhurst district arcade to purchase three younger boys to replace what he called "worn-out" altar boys. He disapproved of the free mixing of midget adults and children outside of a church backroom, though he later emphatically stated that he did not mind the taking of blood samples and the use of portable brain scan equipment. After a brief period of outrage that culminated in the burning of Ms. Pac-Man in effigy, Polybius disappeared from Portland arcades just months after it appeared. Most Portlanders assumed that it merely joined other short-lived and obscure unpopular games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
Heavily redacted Freedom of Information Act documents prove that Polybius was part of a military psychology experiment completely backed by the US government and the Little Debbie snack cake company. Its purpose was to debilitate the enemy soldiers of evil empires like Canada and produce the side benefit of creating a gullible American populace that would do the bidding of the government while continuing to eat large quantities of junk food. This was specified to include running outside to put money in parking meters for politicians and buying ice cream for high-ranking members of the military.
However, it was found that Polybius machines were problematic as field weapons. The arcade machines would take fatal damage 90% of the time when parachuted from aircraft. Technical problems abounded as coin machinery needed to be able to accept rubles, and yuan coins. It was found that machines in Russia could not handle the standard substitute for coins, Kraft cheese slices. Researchers also found that Russian soldiers would often ignore the joystick control, preferring to use body English and shaking the game machine to try to influence play. As Russian players would typically be drunk, the games were also found to be vulnerable to vodka spillage.
The scope of the Polybius project was revealed when kidnap victims in flying saucers reported seeing long trains full of quarters making their way from Portland to Fort Knox. A few people also reported seeing long trains carrying steel slugs and metal washers pass by in the dead of night headed toward Utah foundries. Later, rolls of US quarters woud be found in the pockets of dead Nicaraguan Contra soldiers. At the same time, Iranian mullahs would always be jingling lots of change in their pockets. Put together, those facts would expose the Iran-Contra affair to the world.
It was later found that the estimated 300 units, costing $3.4 million each to manufacture, were built without consultation of experts such as the Williams and Bally Corporations. Those companies, builders of pinball machines and electronic slot machines, would have added ruggedness to the Polybius design as both were used to having drunks with the strength of enraged gorillas attacking their equipment. An estimated $300 million was spent in the investigation, with the result that nothing was done.
Polybius arcade machines were smuggled into China and placed in various bars and eateries. As soldiers were typically the only ones with enough money to afford to play arcade games, this worked out perfectly. Soldiers would then experience extreme headaches, nausea, memory loss, nightmares and worse as expected. However, this was common for Chinese soldiers anyway and a play or two of the popular Naughty Acupuncturist game would cure any effects from Polybius. The CIA did find that Polybius was completely ineffective with party officials and their children who stole every Polybius machine in China for their personal use.
Soon, knockoff Polybius machines began appearing worldwide. US intelligence experts were initially extremely confused since the games clearly originated in China but were not branded as "Prorybius". The new machines were physically identical in nearly every respect, even marked "Sinnesloschen Gmbh, a division of NATO" and stenciled "Property of US Army" on the cabinet back.
The game became popular in the US once again but it was found that slaves for wealthy expat Chinese were being smuggled into the country in otherwise empty game cabinets. When US customs discovered the ruse, it banned all game shipments from China. However, games were still being shipped through Canada via the port of Vancouver. So many Polybius game cabinets were stacked up awaiting shipment across the US-Canadian border that a large number of slaves escaped. This accounts for the large ethnic Chinese population in Vancouver today.
Gaming company Rogue Ganglion created their own version for personal computers in 2007. It became extremely popular as it caused seizures, vomiting, total memory wipes, rectal itch and worse. A lawsuit filed by Apple, later found to be fronting for the CIA, complained that Rogue Ganglion had stolen their technology. However, during trial, a game demonstration destroyed the minds of the attorneys and the judge involved so the case was never resolved. Polybius's resurgence eventually led to the practice of rickrolling, when 4chan user T*yl*rSw*f* replaced instances of the word "Polybius" onsite and online with a link to the infamous video of a naked Rick Astley singing into a hairbrush to his Beanie Baby collection.
Rogue Ganglion executives made so much money that they bought several of the Shan States in Burma and became mainline heroin users, consuming as much as 25% of that nation's poppy production. No one was aware of their addiction since they acted normally crazy for game company executives. The company closed its doors after their deaths. However, the lessons were not lost on Microsoft Corp. as it licensed Rogue Ganglion technology so that the Windows operating system would also cause extreme headaches, nausea, memory loss, nightmares and worse.
The Polybius arcade game has been long regarded as myth by many. This is despite the fact that thousands of now-grown but still immature players, now senile or not, have reported playing the game. Suicides were caused by the game with some original players claiming to have committed suicide successfully two times or more after having played the game just once or twice.
The thousands of people that have played the game and have been unable to prove it existing despite having photographs "somewhere in a drawer" just shows that Polybius was a real arcade game. Similarly, there is always immediate recognition of the original by many more thousands of people after being shown three different style reproduction game cabinets. Historians consider the game to be real, as they tend to be nerds, while many game players of the 1980s have grown up from being youthful bullies to violently sociopathic adults with hair triggers. Therefore, everyone is afraid to ask them anything about the game.
While briefly ranked as the number one game of the 1980s mostly based on its popularity in Portland, Polybius is now ranked at number two behind E.T. The Extraterrestial, a game made for the Atari 2600 in 1982.
The game's core concepts of inducing extreme headaches, nausea, memory loss, nightmares and worse has endured. Modern games like Grand Theft Auto 56: Vomit-Inducing Migraine and Zelda LXIV: Link in the Itchy Land of Crabs have adopted Polybius elements. Thanks to Polybius, game systems are now vomit-proofed and controls are harder to break if players have a seizure. The basic concept of Polybius has now been extended with the thrill of potential electrocution added to modern computer games.
- Tinfoil Hat Society newsletter, Star Date 34.22.995
- It seems to have worked.
- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, "Who wants ice cream?" (speech), April 1987
- Reagan, Ronald, "Having Change to Buy Ice Cream Isn't a Sin" (speech), January 1987
- Buckley, William F., Eye Bleach and Thanatopsis, Merkle Press 2007
- "OD Scare Actually Windows Effects, No Worries" Seattle Post-Intelligence, 22 November 2009
- "Is Pollybrios (sic) a Death Machine?", Midnight Star, 17 October 1985
- "Clinically Fucking Batshit Insane", Journal of American Psychology, March 1992