Encyclopaedia of the Impossible: Polybius

Previously: The House on Ash Tree Lane.

Type: EV (Electronic Virus)

Period/location of origin: 1981, Portland, Oregon.

Appearance: Subject appears to be a coin-operated game cabinet of the type popular in American video arcades in the late 1970s and 1980s. The cabinet is all black except for the logo of a game known as Polybius, allegedly created by a developer by the name of “Sinnesloschen.” The game itself is a puzzle/shoot-‘em-up title of abstract design; similarities between it and the 1981 Atari title Tempest have been drawn, although Tempest is not known to have ever posed a threat to its players.

Modus operandi: Subject will initially present as a limited release title in a select few arcades located in the suburbs of a major city. Although the fast-paced gameplay may be difficult to follow, subject will quickly garner a following of dedicated players. Repeated exposure to subject will first cause mild confusion in players before progressing to severe amnesia. Players will also suffer from nausea, sleep disruptions, nightmares, and in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies.

Suited men may occasionally be seen retrieving play statistics and other data from subject. These men will be uninterested in collecting subject’s coin earnings. After a minimum of four weeks, but no more than six, subject’s game cabinets will be begin to disappear from the arcades as quietly as they had arrived.

It is unknown to where they are taken—or who takes them.

Containment: Subject remains inactive unless coins are inserted and the “start” button is pressed.

Additional notes: Subject is named for the Greek historian Polybius (c. 200 – 118 BCE). Polybius is most notable for his works in the field of cryptography, as well as for developing the cipher known as the Polybius square. He also asserted that historians should never report what cannot be verified through interviews with eyewitnesses.

Polybius title screen.

Subject’s first known location was in a small suburb of Portland, Oregon in 1981. It is believed that it may have been based on a series of proprietary behavior modification algorithms developed by a certain government agency, although this theory has yet to be substantiated. Subject’s true origin remains unknown.

Several programs claiming to be ROMS of the game have surfaced on the Internet in recent years. These programs may in fact be mere approximations of Polybius, rather than the game itself; for safety purposes, however, it is not recommended that they be downloaded and played.

It is worth noting that the name of the software developer whose copyright appears on the title screen —“Sinnesloschen”—translates from German as “sense-deletion.”

Recommendation: Most game cabinet’s bearing subject’s name are likely to be fakes; similarly, most Internet videos claiming to have rediscovered subject should be regarded as hoaxes. However, should subject itself be unearthed from whatever storage facility in which it currently resides, refrain from plugging it in and keep your loose change in your pocket.


8 Creepy Video Game Urban Legends.

Polybius on CoinOp.org – Earliest known Internet reference to subject.

Polybius on Good Deal Games.

Polybius on Know Your Meme.

Ancient History Encyclopedia: Polybius – Concerning subject’s namesake.

One thought on “Encyclopaedia of the Impossible: Polybius

  1. Hi there, I’m writing in regards of the mysterious “Polybius”. I’ve been interested in this story for quite some time. Last night I was explaining the legend to my fiance. As soon as he heard the name, he said he had heard of the game. I replied, “Oh, so you know of the urban legend?” He replied, “No, the actual game.” A bit puzzled, I pulled up some pictures online of supposed cabinets of the game and he pointed out which one he had seen. My fiance is a bit older than I am, he would have been about 13 to 14 years old in 1981. The only thing is that he was living in New Jersey at the time. He claimed to never have played it but swears that he saw it and saw others playing it. He seemed so certain about it, didnt even have to think twice. I know this isn’t much info but maybe it’s some evidence that the game also appeared in other parts of the country? Anyway, just thought I’d share. (Below is the cabinet he claims to be the true cabinet.)

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