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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Polybius Game Urban Legend Resurfaces 81

Eric Greif writes "I've just discovered information on an odd arcade game from 1981, only released in some backwater suburbs in Portland, Oregon. This game was called Polybius and was apparently featured in a recent article in GamePro magazine. This game boasts strange effects on the players of the game, such as various forms of amnesia, as well as behavior and mood changes." GamePro say that " Credited to a company called Sinnesloschen [German for 'sense-deleting'], Polybius... was an abstract puzzle game... one arcade owner claimed that black-coated gentlemen would periodically come to collect data - but not coins - from the machines." Snopes.com call Polybius out as a hoax, correctly, but after all this recent attention, does anyone know who devised this elegant spoof, and when?
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Polybius Game Urban Legend Resurfaces

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  • So that's where Bandai got the idea for the nasty sideeffects of "The World"... Kinda makes you wonder what would happen in real life is something like that actually happened.
  • by rj-eleven ( 312679 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @02:54AM (#6752324)
    ...try and disprove it.
  • by evilWurst ( 96042 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @03:01AM (#6752337) Journal
    Reminds me a little of the movie "The Last Starfighter".

    I kind of doubt Pac-Man is a training simulator for anything, though. :)
  • Snopes.com call Polybius out as a hoax,

    Where's your proof?

    • Where's your proof?

      Erm, you can't always prove something was hoax, trying would obviously be an exercise in futiity in many cases ('as any fule kno').

      You can however use that organ called the brain to make a rational judgement about the likely hood if it being real.

      If this doesn't set your bogon detector to maximum altert, you need a new one.

    • Re:correctly (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nanojath ( 265940 )
      Proofs of negatives are damn tough to come by - and even if the absence of proof is not the proof of absence...

      Snopes doesn't really go into it true but it doesn't take a hell of a lot of investigation to call this out as bogus.

      First, search around the internet and there is a certain monotony to "reports" of this game. For the most part it is clearly the repetition of some blurb someone wrote that has just gotten pasted hither and yon. There is no supporting evidence, no credible, attributed first-han

  • Just a wild guess: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @03:28AM (#6752434) Homepage Journal
    Probably comes from a story or novel. Polybius is the sort of thing a thriller or SF writer would invent. Perhaps we could ask the writers of a certain TV show [caltech.edu] where they ripped off the idea.

    I'm reminded of Iain Banks's novel Complicity [amazon.com], in which the protagonist spends rather too much time playing fancy computer games. Banks, who obviously has the same problem, invented some extremely cool games for him to play, including one which sounds like Civilization, only much more imaginative and creative. People are always asking Banks where they can buy these games. Sadly, they don't exist outside his head.

  • by FluxCapacitator ( 664284 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @03:28AM (#6752435)
    although I don't recall where or when.
  • by GoRK ( 10018 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @03:30AM (#6752442) Homepage Journal
    Oh yeah! I remember that game.. it rocked. The best part about it was that it was free to play. It wasnt very hard, but there were all these weird transitions that played between levels. The game existed for sure, but all this talk of mind control isassssofo nngggrrrrff afsfsffasfaff gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg ggggggggg gg ggggggggggggggg ggggggggggggggg
  • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @04:41AM (#6752646) Homepage Journal
    http://groups.google.com/groups?th=4b04537daa47bef a
    Would someone please shoot this story in the head?

    It was put there by net kook 'CYBERYOGI' who was also responsible for an annoying April Fools prank last year.
  • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @04:52AM (#6752685) Homepage Journal
    Gotta love the wayback machine:

    http://web.archive.org/web/2000030322484 4/http://www.clickto.com/coinop/GamePage/Polybius. html

    I assume the URL has been broken by /. string filters...

  • by Nice2Cats ( 557310 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @05:08AM (#6752732)
    This is in fact German, though it does sound somewhat strange. Die Sinne are in fact the senses, and loeschen is to delete or clear. The oe is really a umlaut (two dots above the vowel), but I can't get Slashdot's US-centric rendering machine to display it. What is usually a sign of correct German is when the transcription of the umlaut is done correctly like this, which is rare enough -- compare all of the ubergeeks who should really all be uebergeeks. Also, it is not California uber alles, but Kalifornien ueber alles. But I think Mr. Schwarzenegger will get that right.

    Anyway. The "s" in the middle of the word is a Fugen-s that connects word parts the same way a dash does; usually, if you use a dash, you don't need an "s", though the rules can be complicated. In theory, you have a legal noun now (das Loeschen), but you probably would say die Sinnesloeschung instead. It isn't exactly wrong this way, but is sounds strange.

    If they had wanted a cool name, they should have gone for Sinneserloeschung, which is more poetic (IMHO) and implies that the senses slowly die. Or, of course, there is always Sinnestod, the "death of the senses" -- I'd have gone with that.

  • There was this... well still is this site http://www.beta-7.com [beta-7.com] that claims the new Sega football game causes siezures and memory loss. There was an article here on slashdot maybe a month or 2 ago.
    • Seriously...I thought this was dead and then some retard posted it somewhere else recently...now I find it on Slashdot.

      It's fake...obviously. The "guys in black suits not taking the quarters"...which would have belonged to the arcade owner is an obvious giveaway. I realize that there isn't a lot of game news right now...but maybe if Slashdot would post some links to reviews...maybe we could have something that's possibly on-topic.

      Why aren't we allowed to mod stories?
  • i have to say, I am impressed with the idea of an arcade game controlling peoples' minds in a small town, but there are a few problems: 1. A guy comes and collects "data". Right. This would imply that they were doing research of some kind, and it's a fairly obvious thing to say that the best kind of data collection comes from a variety of sources. Thats why good polls are never conducted in a small area where there is a fairly predicatble response to questions. You would have to do this in a number of citi
  • So where is it??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WWWWolf ( 2428 )

    Where's the ROM? Or, if there's the ROM, how do you emulate it? (You just don't plug it in MAME...) And even if you have the ROM, where's the damn hardware? It's been a while since year 1981 - anyone can make a ROM of a game, call it "Polybius" and make people think that's the real mind-erasing game thing. And it'll be even more convenient if the game won't work in emulator...

    No, we need more solid evidence than vague reports. Specifically, hardware specs, full history, ROMs, whatever - but not rumors.


    • Dude. Polybius is 100% true. I'm serious. My brother's wife's aunt's roommate's son played it once.
    • Dude, now I've got the bombastic marching music from "Army Moves" stuck in my head. I haven't played it for well over a decade, but still remember the music was fairly well know marching songs.
      • Yep, Fred Gray's great soundtrack. I never remembered the game's name, until I came across it in STIL. (The pieces are "Colonel Bogey march" from Bridge Over River Kwai, and Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever".)

        As a game, it's definitely a game that the next generation just refuses to believe to exist. "You can't have good and appropriate game background music. And what's with that damn jeep? Cars can't jump like that! Aaaaaaargh! Take it away!" These days, if you make a war game it has to have even a lit

    • No, we need more solid evidence than vague reports.
      Dude, if you're going to insist on verifiable evidence for every little thing, think of all the fun you'll miss [state.gov]!
  • They mention in other rumours of the famed 'Marine Doom'. Im wondering if anyones ever played it. how different is it? and why hasnt it gotten onto the net? i want to play it.
  • You are ruining it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Metal_Demon ( 694989 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:41AM (#6753443)
    You are all missing the point. What could be a very interesting conversation on whether this could ever happen, how, why, and does the government secretly keep tabs on people who kick ass at war-games, has become "prove it". It is quite obvious this game is a load of crap but the real point is What If?

    That being said I'm going to get this topic on the right track whether you like it or not. First of all I don't think the government does keep track of who has the highest scores at contra. With the way games are today they prove nothing about real world abilities. There are plenty of fat people who couldn't shoot a real gun straight if their life depended on it, but they could ownz joo at Counter Strike. I actually think it could potentially be useful for agencies like the NSA, CIA, ETC to test peoples logic skills with puzzle games, though most of these are a console thing and therefore would be hard to collect data from people who don't come to you.

    In the future, if virtual reality ever becomes a reality, and there are very realistic FPS and strategic combat games I wouldn't put it past big brother to monitor the l33t and attempt to recruit them. [disclaimer] I might be insane, I've been playing alot of Polybius lately. [/disclaimer]

    • by Hanashi ( 93356 ) *
      The idea of a government using games or puzzles as recuitment devices isn't farfetched at all. In fact, during WWII, the British Government Code & Cipher School ran crossword puzzle contests whose secret goal was to identify people with the ability and interest to be trained as cryptologists. Some of these people went on to work at Bletchley Park, breaking Axis radio ciphers like Shark and Enigma.

      Of course, that's a far cry from your standard arcade video game. I doubt there's much value to recru

      • ABC's Alias second season toyed with that idea. I'm not through season two yet, but in it the Russian government was using a special test in the 80s with question that don't seem appropriate for the normal 6-8 year old. Then based on the results they flag certain kids as potential spy material and recruit them years later. The thing is the test was given to AMERICAN students in the United States (someone must have been working as a double agent in the minitry of education or something to pull this out). So
    • I take it that you've never read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card?
      • No but it's actually on my current list of books to buy or borrow. And for the record I'm not saying that nobody has ever thought about, discussed, or even participated in something like this before.
  • by Thedalek ( 473015 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:48AM (#6753500)
    I seem to recall a similar concept being presented in a comic book in the early to mid eighties. I suspect it was a Marvel comic featuring a team of heroes. In fact, I quite clearly recall that another part of the storyline was that the machines were powered by kidnapped children (in addition to erasing player's brains).

    However, posted to Usenet by yours truly:

    Every mention I've seen (coinop.org, gooddealgames.com, etc) is extremely skimpy on details such as names, dates, and specific arcades. The general story at the moment is that in less than a dozen arcades in a suburb of Portland, OR in the early 1980s, Polybius was
    introduced. It was an abstract action/puzzle game which did't really attract much attention to itself. However, some people who played it reported incidents of amnesia, forgetting important details about their lives, such as their name, or where their home was. Further, some reported terrible nightmares.

    The story further states that most of the kids who played Polybius swore off video games entirely, and that one became a big anti-videogame advocate (some instances of the story mentioning him as a lobbyist). However, no names are given.

    Lastly, at least one former Portland, OR arcade owner claims that men in black suits would periodically come in to gather data from the machine, but not quarters. Again no names given.

    Examining the logic of the story, however, makes it extremely suspect. If such a thing had truly happened, then the conspiracy in question didn't really do anything to avoid attention. In fact, they did almost everything they could to -attract- attention.

    Picture this:

    ARCADE OWNER: Oh, hey, you must be here to look at the Polybius machine.

    MAN IN BLACK: Why do you say that?

    ARCADE OWNER: Because you're wearing a black business suit, stupid. This is an arcade, not a juice bar. By the way, aren't you going to take the quarters or something?

    MAN IN BLACK: No. I'm getting data.


    Now, if such a thing -had- happened, it should have set off warning lights all over the place.

    On the other hand, my paranoid brain just spat out a possible explaination other than the "we're being obvious because no one will believe it" explaination that conspiracy theories so often use. How about "we're being obvious because some people will believe it, and we want to control what you believe?"

    Fact: In 1983, video games were becoming a serious contender for consumer money.

    Fact: In 1983, the public at large did not percieve video games as something to be regulated or monitored.

    Fact: They do now.

    Some other things to consider: Video games cannot induce amnesia or hallucinations. In fact, no form of video/audio stimulation can without exceptional chemical circumstances.

    However, drugs can. Astonishingly, there are drugs which could have produced the exact reactions the children who played Polybius experienced. Many of these could be delivered via touch, or through the air to be inhaled. It wouldn't be too hard to hide a delivery system in a thing as massive as an arcade cabinet, but even that runs a risk: What if someone got hold of the cabinet?

    Does everyone remember those bean-bag ashtrays that used to be all over the place? Acades were cluttered with them. Ever know of an arcade that actually cleaned them out?

    It wouldn't be too hard to hide a delivery system in one of those, and no one would notice if a vapor seemed to be coming from an ashtray.

    In other words, if the whole Polybius thing did happen, the whole thing is a smokescreen for political manipulation to demonize video games so that the government could control them. The game itself was a red herring.

    Beware the ashtray.

    • [...] cannot induce amnesia or hallucinations. In fact, no form of video/audio stimulation can without exceptional chemical circumstances.

      I seem to recall learning in school about Ptolemy doing experiments with a spinning spoked wheel and sunlight. He demonstrated the effect where at certain speeds the spokes appear to stop or rotate backwards and also the hallucination of color when the wheels were only black and white.

      Somewhere I have a flexi-single that came with an audiophile magazine that demonst

      • Everything you describe, except sensory deprivation, are optical or auditory illusions, not hallucinations. They reflect weaknesses in our perceptual system, or sometimes, they reflect strengths.

        For example, in our eyeballs, before the signal even goes out on the optic nerve, some edge detection is performed on the incoming optical input. If you remember the optical illusion where there is a regular grid of black squares, delimited by white lines, and you see little black sparkles in the intersection of th
      • Hell, just playing Crack Attack [aluminumangel.org] for a few hours before going to be is enough to make me see things...
      • My friend just got a hold of the Flaming Lips "Zaireeka" album, which features 4 cds to be played simultaneously. It has a warning about causing disorientation and nausea. It is supposed to be extremely immersive.

        Just thought I would throw that in.
    • I'm pretty sure the comic you're referring to was one of the early issues of "Team America", a book about motorcycle racers who could form a gestalt being called "The Marauder".

      IIRC the kidnapped kids were basically locked inside the arcade games. I was maybe 7 years old when I read that. It scared the hell out of me.
  • 1. Make customers have amensia and forget the game
    2. ?
    3. Profit!
    • To fill in the question mark, just see the movie Memento. To the best of my own memory (I'm too lazy to hunt for a script):

      Motel Clerk: Business is slow, so when I told my boss about your condition he said, "Try to rent him another room."

      Memory Guy: So how many rooms am I booked into in this s***hole, anyway.

      Motel Clerk: Just the two, for now.

      Memory Guy: Well, thank you for being so honest about the way you are ripping me off.

      Motel Clerk: No problem, you aren't going to remember it anyway.


    • heh, sounds like puzzle pirates...

      1. Underpants (Alpha)
      2. ??? (Beta)
      3. Profit!

      good stuff. ; )
  • Backwater? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afabbro ( 33948 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @10:05AM (#6754140) Homepage
    I find it hysterical that Slashdot - hosted in Holland, Michigan, which is (a) the wart on the ass of Michigan, (b set in a dry county, (c) a place where until recently MTV was not offered because it offended the local populace so, and (d) home of various colleges (like some of the Slashdot crew's alma mater) where creationsim is taught - would refer to Portland, Oregon's suburbs as "backwater".

    Kids, I grew up in West Michigan and live in Portland and on the scale of "who has more atavistic hicks mired in 19th century thinking," Holland Michigan and Ottawa County lead the pack.

    • I'd certainly put Gresham and Milwaukie down as current backwater Portland suburbs... and maybe Oregon City too.

      Heck in '83 before the tech boom most PDX suburbs just had a few thousand people in them, now many of them are pushing 100K populations. It wouldn't be too off target to call them backwater back then.

      I don't remember playing Polybius back then in any arcade around Portland, so the obvious answer is that I must've played it and it got deleted from my brain.
      • Milwaukie certainly isn't backwater. I'd argue that if you kept go east of Milwaukie to Carver and Damascus and all of eastern Clackamas county then you'll find backwater.
    • I'm from Muskegon County, just north of Ottawa county. And yes, Ottawa County sucks.

      But they're not completely dry, they just have more restrictions. I believe you can't by any packaged liquor on Sundays, and you can't buy beer in a bar on Sundays either (though mixed drinks can still be sold). My friend's wife's family had a liquor store just north of the county line; they made a killing on Sunday, especially when New Year's Eve was on a Sunday. (Poor store burned down a couple months ago, but they're

  • by BaumSquad ( 632811 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:04AM (#6754642)
    Yeah, you can do it too. I'd post the proof, but I don't really have any web space, and it's more fun to do yourself, and, hey, it only takes 20 seconds. Well, you need photoshop first. Basically just load up the supposed screen shot, go to Image-Ajust-Levels. In the levels drag the middle slider underneath the little graphic representation all the way to the left. What do you see? Just as I expected, a clear differentiation between the copy/pasted text from a real game and the pure black background. It looks like little rectangles of colored blocks around the text that fills the rectangle, and outside of that it is pure black. Basically the pure black background can't get any blacker, and no matter how much brightness/contrast/saturation you add to pure black, it stays pure black. Well, the real background from the screen grabs this faker got to copy-paste the letters together to make the words, or really whatever method he used, have a speckled background. There is a clear rectangular border around all three parts. It's oddly shaped, too. Not evenly surrounding each part of text, which could conceivably be jpg encoding artifacts, but it's a clear border that extends about 2 times the size of the bottom text below the bottom chuck. About 1 times the size of the middle text above that text, and the size of the middle text extended above the top title text. It's a clean line, and very obvious when viewed under these circumstances. An obvious hoax. Of course this doesn't disprove the whole thing, but it totally debunks by far the best "evidence" that is available. Try it! It's kinda fun in a nerdy CSI kinda way... -BaumSquad
    • Well, I did this with gimp (using image->colors->brightness-constrast), and I saw the same thing, but I belive this is an artifact of jpg compression. You can see the same effect on the screenshots from the other games on the same page (See the "game audits" image).

      JPEG is lossy compression. Sorry.

  • Why was the owner suprised the men weren't taking the quarters? Aren't those quarter's the arcade owner's? It's his arcade, he bought the machine, why would men in black suits come and take his money?
    • Why was the owner suprised the men weren't taking the quarters? Aren't those quarter's the arcade owner's? It's his arcade, he bought the machine, why would men in black suits come and take his money?

      And, in addition, why would an arcade owner let men in black suits "collect data" from inside a machine that he owns? Is it common practice to let people you don't know rummage around in your arcade games?
    • It's common for arcades to receive games 'on test'.
      They get them for free (or at a reduced price) and must fill in reports about how good the machine does (number of plays/replays/..)

      So if a 'new' company would launch a new arcade game, it wouldn't be too strange to put it for free on location for testing.. or to have employees of this company coming around to check out the machine.
  • by dsyu ( 203328 )
    if you like fiction [amazon.com] based on arcade machines that never existed?
  • I for one know for a fact that such memory-erasing games exist. My local pub has a mysterious game called "Golden Tee Golf". Several of us play this game regularly and have several pitchers of beer and often shots of alcohol while playing. Strangely, I can never remember anything from these nights. The next day I wake up with a head-ache and am very thirsty!! I think once I saw a guy with a tie in the very same bar as this arcade game. Conspiracy!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have personally been researching this game for a few weeks now, after seeing the original article, and in fact was the one who e-mailed Snopes.com about it (around Aug 1). I was disappointed that although they concluded that it was false, no explantations of it's origin were mentioned. This topic has also been heavily discussed in the Penny Arcade message boards a few weeks ago.

    What I find to be the MOST interesting aspect is not the "amnesia inducing" properties, but if the game actually EXISTS. I ha
    • Yeah, the "government conspiracy" aspect does not interest me in the slighest. Who knows, it could just be a failed prototype arcade game. There's plenty of those. Doubtful, but worth looking into for that aspect. It does seem like a hoax though. If you have the rom then why not release it?
  • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @10:46PM (#6761590) Homepage Journal
    I am reasonably sure that this is a hoax, but I'm disappointed that no one has *any* evidence that it is. Even Snopes just says it's not true, without providing links to any of the alleged original posts on Usenet from the alleged perpetrator of the hoax.

    Isn't that how urban legends spread? By a bunch of people repeating what they think is true without referencing any authoritative sources?
  • "This game boasts strange effects on the players of the game, such as various forms of amnesia, as well as behavior and mood changes"

    Wait...I thought the name of that game was Everquest?

The next person to mention spaghetti stacks to me is going to have his head knocked off. -- Bill Conrad