Polybius: Unraveling the Mystery of the Deadly Video Game Legend

Polybius, an alleged 1980s arcade game, has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories, urban legends, and internet hoaxes[1]. The game is said to have caused harmful psychological effects on its players, including amnesia, nightmares, and even death. Despite a lack of concrete evidence supporting its existence, the myth of Polybius continues to captivate the imagination of gamers, conspiracy theorists, and internet sleuths alike. This article delves into the origins, theories, and possible explanations surrounding the enigmatic and deadly video game known as Polybius.

The Origins of Polybius

The legend of Polybius can be traced back to an anonymous post on the coinop.org website in February 2000[2]. The post claimed that Polybius was a highly addictive and dangerous arcade game that appeared in a handful of Portland, Oregon, arcades in 1981. The game allegedly caused a wide range of adverse effects on its players, including seizures, insomnia, and hallucinations[3]. Additionally, it was rumored that mysterious men in black would visit the arcades to collect data from the game, further fueling speculation that Polybius was part of a top-secret government experiment or mind control program.

Theories and Possible Explanations

Despite the lack of concrete evidence for the existence of Polybius, several theories and possible explanations have been proposed over the years. Some of the most prominent theories include:

  1. Government Experiment: One popular theory suggests that Polybius was a top-secret government experiment aimed at testing the effects of subliminal messages on players[4]. This theory is often supported by the supposed sightings of men in black visiting the arcades where the game was located, as well as the alleged disappearance of the game soon after it was introduced.
  2. Viral Marketing Hoax: Another theory posits that the Polybius legend is nothing more than an elaborate marketing hoax designed to promote a new video game or other related product[5]. This theory is supported by the fact that the first mention of Polybius appeared on an arcade game enthusiast website, which could have been an attempt to generate buzz for a new release.
  3. Creepypasta or Internet Hoax: Some believe that Polybius is simply an early example of a “creepypasta” – a type of internet urban legend or horror story that is spread and shared online[6]. The origins of the Polybius myth on an anonymous internet post, combined with the lack of verifiable evidence for the game’s existence, support the theory that it is merely an internet hoax.

Investigating the Polybius Myth

Despite the lack of tangible proof for the existence of Polybius, several researchers and enthusiasts have attempted to uncover the truth behind the legend. In 2012, a documentary filmmaker named Stuart Brown released a mini-documentary titled “The Search for Polybius,” which chronicled his investigation into the game’s history and origins[7]. Brown’s research led him to discover a possible connection between Polybius and a real-life 1981 arcade game called “Tempest,” which was known to cause motion sickness and disorientation in some players[8].

Another investigative effort was undertaken by gaming historian and journalist, Brian Dunning, who explored the Polybius myth in a 2017 episode of his podcast “Skeptoid”[9]. Dunning’s research led him to conclude that the Polybius legend was likely an amalgamation of several real-life events and arcade game-related incidents that occurred during the early 1980s, including reports of gamers experiencing adverse reactions to certain games and government agents investigating the use of arcades for illegal gambling activities[10]. Dunning’s findings suggest that the Polybius myth may be a case of mistaken identity or misremembered events that have been embellished and combined over time to create a compelling urban legend.

The Polybius Legacy

Despite the lack of concrete evidence supporting the existence of Polybius, the legend has persisted and even grown in popularity over the years. The myth has been referenced in popular culture, including television shows like “The Simpsons” and “The Goldbergs,” and has inspired various art projects, films, and even video games that pay homage to the mysterious arcade game[11].

In 2017, a game developer named Llamasoft released a game called “Polybius” for the PlayStation 4 and later for PC, which was designed as a tribute to the urban legend[12]. The game has received positive reviews for its immersive gameplay and unique visual style, proving that the Polybius legend continues to inspire and captivate the imaginations of gamers and creators alike.


The legend of Polybius remains an enigmatic and fascinating piece of gaming history that has captured the imagination of countless individuals since its inception. While concrete evidence for the existence of the deadly arcade game remains elusive, the myth has evolved and grown over the years, inspiring a variety of creative works and investigations. Ultimately, the Polybius legend serves as a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of a good mystery.

Source List (MLA Style)

[1] McFerran, Damien. “The Truth Behind Polybius, Gaming’s Most Bizarre Urban Legend.” Nintendo Life, 29 May 2015.

[2] “Polybius.” Coinop.org, 6 Feb. 2000.

[3] Rosenberg, Adam. “The Urban Legend of the Government’s Mind-Controlling Arcade Game.” Motherboard, 20 Oct. 2014.

[4] Kuchera, Ben. “The Polybius Conspiracy: The Greatest Urban Legend in Video Gaming.” Polygon, 3 Nov. 2017.

[5] Stern, Zack. “Polybius: Video Game of Death.” Gamasutra, 8 Nov. 2006.

[6] Dyson, Jon-Paul. “The Mystery of Polybius.” The Strong National Museum of Play, 6 June 2016.

[7] Brown, Stuart. “The Search for Polybius.” YouTube, uploaded by Ahoy, 27 Apr. 2012.

[8] Goldberg, Harold. “The Weird, Wild Legend of Polybius, the Arcade Game That Doesn’t Exist.” Vanity Fair, 1 Nov. 2017.

[9] Dunning, Brian. “Polybius: Video Game of Death.” Skeptoid, episode 593, 28 Nov. 2017.

[10] Winter, Jana. “Feds Raided ’80s Arcades to Stop Gamblers, Not Save Kids from X-rated Games.” Kotaku, 23 Dec. 2011.

[11] Frushtick, Russ. “The Polybius Conspiracy Turns Video Game Urban Legend into a Riveting Mystery.” Polygon, 3 Oct. 2017.

[12] Matulef, Jeffrey. “Polybius, the Trippy PS4 Shooter, is Now on Steam.” Eurogamer, 15 Mar. 2018.

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