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A mocked-up Polybius cabinet.
Gather 'round the campfire
Icon folklore.svg
Urban legends

Polybius is a fictional video game. According to urban legend, the game showed up in Portland, Oregon and caused players to have various mental conditions. The first rumor about the game appeared on coinop.org in 1998, but it claimed the game was released in 1981.[1][2][3] While the CIA has proven that they are not above horrific psychological experiments on unsuspecting civilians, this has been proven false numerous times by multiple historians and experts. Conspiracy theorists claim it is part of MKULTRA.[3]


A simple video game can not induce a mental condition, and video games, as long as you are sane, have no effect on the mental state of the player (though a game with specific light patterns could induce epileptic seizures in a susceptible person, or induce hallucinations in someone who plays a game continuously to the point of sleep deprivation).

EuroGamer attributed the legend to stories about gamers falling ill in the early 1980s after playing games such as Asteroids and Berzerk non-stop for 24 hours or longer, while noting that conspiracies about video games were a prominent part of the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter (in which aliens use video games to recruit space pilots). However even EuroGamer notes there is a problem in the time delay from the early 1980s to the first documented mention of the legend.[3]

The legend does have some (very small) basis in reality: there were cases of stomach discomfort (due to both anxiety and drinking too much Coke), migraine headache, epileptic seasures, police raids in arcades (due to illegal gambling), sale of stolen goods and drugs, and truancy.[4] The United States military uses vídeo games for training its soldiers.[4] There were also East German vídeo game arcades, known as Poly Play, based on pirated Russian CPUs, which were themselves pirated version of Western games, which weren't wonders of engineering; due to these reasons, they were recalled after the Berlin Wall fell.[4]

The Youtuber, Ahoy did an exhaustive search for the origin of the Polybius myth and concluded that it all centered around an a coinop.org page created sometime on or shortly before 6 Feburary 2000[5] and was brought to the general public's attention in the GamePro #180 (Sept 2003) article "Secrets and Lies".[6]


The name of the supposed manufacturer of the game, Sinneslöschen, is nonsensical German for "sensory deprivation" or, more literally, "sense delete".[4]

PolybiusWikipedia's W.svg was a Greek historian who wrote The Histories, invented the Polybius square in cryptography,[4] and was known for his assertion that historians should never report what they cannot verify through interviews with witnesses.[7]

Actual game[edit]

In 2016, legendary game designer Jeff Minter announced plans for a game called Polybius.[8]


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Polybius (video game).
  2. The Urban Legend of the Government's Mind-Controlling Arcade Game, Natalie Zarrelli, Atlas Obscura, Apr 28, 2016
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Polybius: The story behind the world's most mysterious arcade cabinet, EuroGamer, May 22, 2015
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Polybius: Video Game of Death", Skeptoid.
  5. The 8/3/1998 12:00:00 AM date at the bottom of the page appears to be a default value added between April 29 and Aug 10, 2003
  6. POLYBIUS - The Video Game That Doesn't Exist
  7. Polybius on Encyclopedia Britanica.
  8. Polybius, the arcade game of urban legend, is coming to PlayStation VR, Polygon, Oct 7, 2016