POLYBIUS – The Video Game That Doesn't Exist

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POLYBIUS – The Video Game That Doesn't Exist

there is a videogame that doesn’t exist it’s a myth an urban legend a hoax it’s called Polybius and you might have heard of it let me take you back to 1981 back when arcade games were at their peak a multi-billion dollar industry and a fever that had a grip on pop culture video arcades were a new social Nexus and had sprung up everywhere dimly lit by neon light adorned with garish carpet they played host both to crowds of teenagers and cabinets after cabinet of the hottest games of the era space invaders pac-man Donkey Kong Galaga however in an unnamed arcade in some sleepy suburb of Portland there lurked something more obscure a limited release of a game that would evaporate as silently as it appeared the stories are vague the cabinet is described as plain and the gameplay weird-lookin abstract fast action with puzzle elements sometimes it’s described as being particularly addictive despite the unassuming appearance the only concrete details of a name year of release and the company behind it Olevia s– 1981 the zenus lotion really it was just like any other arcade machine except for the side effects reports of sickness amnesia night terrors and behavioral changes followed those who played it there was no accident either if you believe the rumors instead a secret project by government agency developed from military tech for the CIA or some other man in black the machines were observed gameplay records were taken and then after a month or so they disappeared without notice along with any shred of evidence to this day no authentic cabinets bought or dumped roms have surfaced but there are some who claim to hold them quite the yarn that could there be any merit to this myth or even a basis in truth it’s probably safe to assume that the story has been subject to quite some embellishment the accounts are full of conjecture weasel words supposedly according to etc one thing remains consistent across all the stories and that’s the name Polybius why Polybius it’s not novel they belongs to a Greek of some repute a prominent historian born in megalopolis Arcadia this could be a deliberate choice to muddy search queries about the game well perhaps it was chosen on its own merits Polybius covered the Romans rise to power in detail an important primary source and an early example of rigor in historiography he also lends his name to a simple cipher the Polybius square in which letters are substituted by their coordinates on the grid altogether this doesn’t tell us much although the meaning of the name is interesting the poly prefix means many and BIOS life many lives from Arcadia convenient it could be a coincidence but we can assume whoever named the game has at least some knowledge of either history or cryptography real or not the name was chosen another word consistent to the myth is the supposed developer or publisher as Ennis lotion it’s a German word almost a not quite grammatical combination of Zener meaning sense and lotion meaning to erase to erase senses to become senseless it seems to allude to the mythical side effects of Polybius which implies a deliberate choice it’s always certainly not a real company as there are no other games attributed to them nor any trace of company records so polybius could be of German origin but the increment also indicate the use of

machine translation something chosen by a non-native speaker to sound suitably obscure or sinister there isn’t much visual evidence for the game and most can be discounted as fake but there is one screenshot that is consistently upheld as canon it’s rather basic a black background with a polybius logo copyright information and credits and nothing else however compared to contemporary games from 1981 one thing stands out the logo is unusually large and detailed back then fancy graphics were confined to the printed marquees every kilobyte of the ROM was valuable so most game titles were rendered in the standard font or an a much smaller scale this did change over the next few years and by 1983 larger more lavishly designed title screens were more common the closest match in terms of style might be from Nintendo their games favor large bowl titles with similar lettering perhaps polybius drew inspiration from verses pinball or duck hunt of course both of these stay tuned 1984 which makes Bolivia seize 1981 claimed year of release looks furious perhaps it was just ahead of its time another detail from this screenshot is the font used for the smaller text those with a keen eye might recognize a similarity to those used by Williams games such as defender or Robotron and it’s definitely a close match or they’re not identical the smallest 5 pixel high text does match Robotron but the larger 7 pixel text does not there is one game that comes closer nearly a perfect match and while still a Williams title it’s the much less well-known bubbles it’s still not a pixel perfect fit but it is closer than any other the minor differences could be attributed to font tinting JPEG artifact ssin or perhaps a deliberate operation in any case the text is distinctly Williams other Olivia sees some lost prototype or the image was fabricated by someone who drew influence from their games the screenshot has been around for almost as long as the myth and is likely the original source for the turquoise bubble lettered logo it doesn’t exactly give us much to go on and it certainly doesn’t reveal what the gameplay might have been like there are some that claim to reveal more of polybius such as these vector s images distributed on the now-defunct Polybius lives calm first emerging around April in 2008 there’s little supporting evidence for their veracity all signs point to a fan-made creation besides it doesn’t make sense if you had the roms and we’re able to take screenshots of a functioning game what I’ll show it in motion to see the game running would be a revelation there have been multiple people who claim to hold the Polybius roms and yet there’s no sign of them anywhere however there is no shortage of gameplay footage out there but these are all fan made interpretations impressions and what polybius may have been like one of the first emerged around April 2004 distributed by a site called good deal games.com the original source unknown with a spooky icon it’s clearly supposed to evoke the myth and those who are brave enough to run it are given a warning the polybius videogame has been linked to impaired memory and psychological changes gameplay may cause epileptic seizures in susceptible individuals do you still want to continue click OK and you’ll be met with the familiar title screen reformatted for a 4:3 monitor with the logo rapidly flashing while a sound effect plays a sequence of rising tones the flashing continues until you press a key and then nothing the game exits with a fatal error and a message box that reads April Fool’s send this urban legend to a friend interestingly enough if you take the executable into a

hex editor you’ll find the 2 megabyte file is not quite what it seems the first 10 kilobytes consists of some data but the rest empty space acres of zeros terminated with a few bytes of text April Fool’s so we can write that one off as an obvious joke but there is another game that has become the dominant example when searching for Polybius gameplay it came from a site ad zenus lotion calm the supposed developers of the original but the site explains that it’s just a fan mail attempt to recreate what might have been launched the executable and you’re presented with the obligatory warning screens do not play this game etc and ominous mentions of cognitive interfaces and higher functions a familiar logo appears but this is no mere prank there’s an actual game amidst all these spooky theatrics the gameplay is admittedly simple giving you control of a ship that can move in ounce or rotate the play field like the original legend insists there’s more to the game than simple shooting glowing shapes bearing numbers appear and if these numbers match either digit appearing on the base or are evenly divisible then you’ll reduce the basis number by that amount once the base reaches zero you advance on to the next level when the visuals get progressively Trippier aside from the puzzle element the gameplay resembles vector games like tempest or star castle although some aspects are inconsistent with vector graphics such as the swirling backgrounds entering the code 35 34 31 54 12 24 45 43 the code that corresponds to Polybius on a polybius square grants access to the higher game functions there’s a host of extra settings here some relating to auditory entrainment subliminals and color strobe which disables some elements of the game others are more fanciful however REM imprinting gameplay amnesia operand paradigm triggers countless settings designed to inspire the right level of paranoia cracking open the executables resources reveals the game was made in dark basic a game creation tool using a more specialized tool called dark explorer we can reveal all of the game’s assets graphics sound effects etc all of these subliminal aspects are laid bare a variety of messages written in dark grey flashed briefly during gameplay a Bey consumed submit it’s like something straight out of they live the sound effects are similar most are synthetic tones but some feature voice recordings sales breathing presumably these are played at a barely audible level altogether a pretty neat package for those who want to build their own Polybius cabinets but who’s behind it the credits hidden in the higher functions menu give us some insight egor us Penny’s PhD and a mysterious number sequence 4 8 15 16 23 42 the numbers should be familiar if you’ve ever watched lost and it turns out the name is equally cryptic it’s an anagram of rogue sign apps the Whois data for Xena’s lotion comm lists an email from the domain Gorka web.com which in turn links the rogue synapse dot-com it’s the site of an arcade enthusiast with a particular passion for recreating fictional arcade games such as space paranoids seen in Tron or the eponymous cabinet from The Last Starfighter it’s a fantastic funded project but as far as the Polybius myth is concerned it’s just a tribute with the explosion of indie developers over the last decade and have been quite a few other interpretations made both for desktop and mobile there was even a version made for the Atari 2600 with very limited distribution at the retro gaming expo 2013 few of these later examples make any claims of authenticity and they

generally follow a simple shoot-’em-up formula one particularly recent game that bears the Polybius name is Jeff Minter’s version for psvr minta is a veteran game they’ve long noted for his unusual games and light since since 1981 he’s been responsible for a steady stream of psychedelic experiences Alenia stays true to the minterm old and with the rapidly strobing colors and brightening pace of gameplay you can see why the game has pretty strong warnings before you start it’s pulsating visuals and transfer track meshed together to keep you in the zone but its intentions are benevolent with subliminal messages reminding players of the virtues of a nice cup of tea it’s good but it’s Polybius in name only an homage to a legend I certainly fitness some truth to Polybius lots of random arcades have been used as test baits for legendary unreleased arcade games such as Marble Madness – and prom or age – and several other unreleased games have also been spotted in the background of old news reports so plebeian of easily been one of those what I don’t buy is a whole governmental conspiracy behind it I mean why would the FBI want to test the machine that makes people nauseous not only in public but also on children I mean what possible benefit could they have from giving kids migraines if they really want to make kids feel sick all they need to do is wait 10 years for Nintendo to invent the Virtual Boy so despite all the promises and these fan mail interpretations nothing resembling a polybius ROM has ever surfaced a few fan made versions and some screenshots of dubious origin are all that exists in the digital domain but arcade machines are physical things so what about any physical evidence of course the original story tells of the machines sudden disappearance but what if one unit was forgotten what if they weren’t destroyed are sequestered in some warehouse what if someone found one well there are some who claim they have the videos all follow a familiar pattern a shaky camera led by rumors of arcade Hall to the reveal a dark cabinet bearing a familiar name some even feature gameplay normally it’s just the rogue synapse version but sometimes it’s something original and then just as things are getting interesting what was that jump-scare roll credits invariably its arcade enthusiasts showing off their custom cabinet work and having a bit of fun in the process and who can blame them Olevia is an essential part of arcade myth and to have your own machine is quite the talking point only one polybius cabinet is unaccounted for a low resolution black-and-white photo that appears on the killer list of videogames entry for Polybius it’s a Namco style cabinet dating from about 1979 to 1981 you can see the same style in Galaxian Galaga or pacman examples the black panels and tee molding most strongly suggest a Galaga cabinet with the decals removed but the sights appear to be lighter perhaps white which means it could be the rarer Bostonian or a converted Bostonian cabinet the controls don’t match however just a single button and stick and the coin box isn’t consistent with Namco machines of that era it is period-correct definitely from the early 80s but the dual steel plate style is more likely to be from a data East or nichy bhutesu machine so it could be a custom-built repainted and assembled from spares or even built from scratch there’s also the very real possibility that it’s simply a Photoshop the police marque could have been applied directly from the screen shot the low resolution and lack of color make detecting a fake difficult and I suspect it’s deliberate an original photo of a custom cabinet perhaps but it seems altered to fit the myth it’s not just cabinets sometimes someone will claim to have a circuit board from the fabled game such as the one featured here if it were real it might even be playable with the right connections or

the roms could be dumped and subsequently emulated it would be a very valuable find if it were real this is definitely an arcade PCB but it’s not Polybius it’s a bootleg miss pac-man with some minor photoshopping to obfuscate its origin it’s not even enough to fool Google’s reverse image search so we can confidently ignore this particular claim manufacturing in arcade game is something which involves a lot of people engineers programmers artists it’s not a task undertaken solo so with multiple people involved surely by now someone would have come forward with information well as it happens there have been a few although whether they tell convincing stories is another matter one testimony comes from an anonymous source who claims polybius was associated with Sega’s arcade division he’s known only as PR go1 7 I know I will not be believed but still I believe this must be told I have information on a video game called polybius this game is real I was a programmer in Sega’s arcades division I played a myth straight insisting that their secret project was designed to stimulate specific parts of the human brain with testers suffering amnesia and loss of arcade game fandom they then go on to explain that the Sega Genesis CD made use of previous code fragments in order to get the two processors syncing up the account is poly written and loose on real detail it leans rather too heavily on the original myth and the introduction of a Link to sega doesn’t seem to make much sense the technical details are vague and the timeline doesn’t quite match up the Sega CD wasn’t released until 1991 a decade after Polybius given the overly dramatic ending unverified status and complete lack of supporting evidence the rgo 1/7 is a fraud perhaps the most prominent claimant of responsibility is a man named Steven Roach who in a series of posts in early 2006 claimed to be one of the original programmers of polybius I think it’s about time I latest arrest my name is Steven Roach since flushin was a company sit down by myself and so other amateur programmers in 1978 he says he’s primarily based in the Czech Republic where he set up a company called Zenith lotion with several mainly amateur programmers that worked on component parts for PCBs with programming as a limited but very profitable sideline interesting how a band of several programmers saw programming as a sideline but anyway he goes on to detail the beginning of polybius we are approached around 1980 by a sultan american company the cello remain nameless for local purposes to develop an arcade game that centred on a new approach to video game graphics so I checked company a specialized in PC base was approached by an unnamed southern American company to develop an arcade game which would be tested in a limited North American market truly a global conspiracy he goes on to explain how these side effects started happening early and playtesting and how the resultant cover-up might have inspired these stories of men in black I’ll be honest the writing smacks of imposter ship it’s all recounted in run-on sentences dressed in dramatic language that wouldn’t be out of place in a poorly written ghost story and several things just don’t add up he claims to have been born in rill in Wales and moved to Czechoslovakia in 1965 at the age of 15 due to his parents business interests an interesting proposition given the fact that the country was under communist control at the time he claims the Polybius name was chosen by one of his colleagues who studied Greek mythology the polybius is a historical figure not a mythological one the majority of his ramblings are just expansions of the original myth and what little novel detail exists is presented without proof I reached out to enviros email address but receive no reply he

did reply to an interview call from bit parade Co UK however where he answered some questions about his role in making the game disappointingly much of it is copied verbatim from his original post perhaps he wanted to keep his story straight or didn’t want to expend too much creative effort in developing the story he does go into more detail about the gameplay however describing the puzzle elements that would later influence rogue synapsis interpretation of the game in Cat the sparrows 2012 article reinvestigating polybius she found a possible link between Steven Roach and the Czech Republic someone with that name was running a troubled teen facility and burner however this Steven Roach was originally a policeman from Utah whereas the one associated with Polly Deus claims to have been born in Wales so perhaps it’s just a coincident name everything about Steven Roach wreaked of a hoax I had one lead left to follow the original claims were made on a few different sites but Roach was most active on the retro gamer forums where there are a number of follower posts the thread goes on for several pages a few suspiciously new accounts are quite active it seems someone might have been using sock puppets to feel discussion later a moderator confirms that several names are posting from the same IP and Steven Roach is amongst them most of these accounts were created specifically for the ruse but the oldest had been used in good faith I checked the post history an introduction I had the pranksters full name and an approximate location a quick Google search turned up social media accounts that matched I sent him a tweet and waited I originally said that I received no reply from Steven Roach via email and this was true at the time of writing and up until a few days after I sent this tweet as if by magic two and a half months after sending the original email he finally gets back to me I was approaching the end of this project I didn’t have time for his games I had to call his bluff so I addressed him by his real name I said perhaps it’s time to retire the Steven Roach persona it was a long shot and he didn’t work he kept up the pretense even in the face of the evidence I had he wasn’t going to give it up shortly after I received a reply on Twitter from my suspect my original inquiry was alight pretty straightforward but the response was obtuse hostile even I wasn’t gonna get a confession but by now I was fairly sure I’d found the guy responsible leatherby no doubt Steven Roach is a red herring and his story entirely fabricated most of what we know about Polybius comes secondhand and this lack of primary evidence makes me suspicious of the whole thing however what we do have is primary evidence for real events that are a bit like some of the things that happened in the Polybius legend and it’s quite easy to see how this could have been embellished or misunderstood to create the Polybius story in these secondhand accounts as they’re retold history isn’t necessarily what happened it’s what people say happened so there’s a lot of evidence trapped within the Polybius myth but not much of it is convincing the same stories crop up time and time again sometimes with embellishment sometimes with the new theories but never anything that links the game to its supposed origin in the arcades making sense of it all and establishing the truth is a difficult task and I’m not the first to try perhaps the best way to establish believe is his origin is to start in the present rather than chasing unverifiable rumors from nearly 40 years ago instead we can trace the evidence that exists today back to its source this trail might not lead all the way back to 1981 but wherever it ends might provide insight as to how this story began as a starting point we can look to Wikipedia its article history is transparent and the site has been around for a while on February the 25th 2005 the polybius

video game page was created but this isn’t the first mention of the game on Wikipedia going back to November 30th 2004 the main polybius article the one about the historian was amended with a section titled the arcade game / hoax going back further there was a short-lived edit on the 29th of February the same year the red Polybius is also the name of a possibly fictitious video game and contemporary folk law related to Ataris tempest it legendarily led to mental illness and players this is the earliest mention I could find but what exactly prompted its Wikipedia inclusion early in 2004 the internet was young and going viral and as yet unknown concept but in August a labia s’ was featured in Slashdot which was a pretty big deal back in 2003 and it mentions an inclusion in a recent issue of GamePro at the time GamePro was the world’s largest independent multi-platform gaming magazine and claimed to be read by over 3 million gamers a month an issue 180 cover date September 2003 although published some weeks earlier there was an article called secrets and lies the article featured six gaming myths with each assigned a verdict true/false or inconclusive Olevia s– was number six the article expressed doubts over the game’s ferocity citing a lack of evidence and the relative ease of fabrication but it ultimately Awards an inconclusive it was this GamePro article that played an important role in propagating the polybius myth exposing the game to a widespread audience that might not have had access to the Internet it’s not the origin of the story but a key catalyst that transformed the game from obscure rumor to widespread legend yeah I think impro was probably a primary source for gamers to find out about polybius I think that writing about it in a national magazine certainly brought it to attention and then of course after it appeared in game Pro a lot of people then spread the legend and told their friends or asked to other people have you known anything about it and probably added a lot of their own details along the way because that’s how urban legends work right Polybius his activity pregame Rome was much more subdued but even in early 2003 the game was still well-known to arcade enthusiasts it turned upon Snopes his forums in July and had mentioned in a hoax round up some times shortly afterwards asserting that this one is just a gag someone invented several years ago which has now become enshrined on the web sometimes shortly before February 15 2003 an article and Polybius appeared on good deal games.com a familiar screenshot appears and at some point there was also a link on the site to the April Fool’s version of the police executable most interestingly at the bottom of the article there is a small banner with special thanks to a site called coin op org turn up the dog is a resource for collectors and enthusiasts of arcade games it features a fairly comprehensive database of games along with a knowledgebase populated with repair and maintenance documents the site is a common factor in many of these early articles it seems they’ve had a page on Polybius longer than anybody else their description of the game is quite familiar it seems most later articles have been based on this one the screenshot appears here too at the bottom of the page is a creation date the 3rd of August 1998 our earliest yet but is it verifiable the URI for this page has changed several times over its lifetime so tracking down the first date of appearance is tricky but with enough digging and copious use of the Wayback Machine we can attempt to discern an origin the current page is history only goes back to February 2014 at this point URI rewriting rules make things more human readable the page prior can be tracked all the way back to 2003 before this the site used lengthy GUI DS with a minor change in 2002 this URI is the oldest I could find on the coin-op the dork domain which takes us all the way back to June the 21st 2000 the entire site

moved the main around this time while it originally started on coin-op dot org at some point during 1999 it was incorporated into click to calm first as a subdomain then later as a subdirectory it’s here where we can shrank the polybius page as far back as possible a capture exists from March the 3rd 2000 interestingly the creation date of 1998 is missing as is the screenshot however there is a last modified date instead even as the 6th of February 2000 along with a note new edition anyone heard of this game this seems to imply that the 6th of February is the date the page was added I mean it says new edition so why does the page today insist that it was created in 1998 when did the date created field first appear a capture from April 29th 2003 lacks the page created date the next capture has it this means it was added between these two dates the date might have been recorded before this but not displayed but another possibility is that the date created field was made later on and populated with a default value I suspect the latter case is true principally because almost all the other game pages share the same creation date down to the 4:00 a.m. time it is possible that polybius was present in the database back then but there’s absolutely no evidence for it what we do have is a verified capture from early 2000 with a date of February the 6th and a claim of a new edition I had nothing earlier in my timeline this could be our origin point day 0 the data myth started so how can we prove that this was the starting point or more accurately how can we disprove it when nowhere close to the supposed release date of 1981 so is it possible to find any earlier evidence anything at all a throw away mention a forum post or magazine article now rumor has it that the myth first emerged on Usenet circa 1994 it’s not as popular today but Usenet was once the go-to place for news discussion and rumor it’s also fairly well preserved since 1995 danger news as archived Usenet and in 2001 they were required by Google today Google Groups is the largest archive of Usenet posts with the full Dasia archive searchable along with supplementary data that goes all the way back to 1981 it searches imperfect but with some patience we might get some results a broad search for polybius pre-2000 turns up some predictable results it is the name of a Greek historian after all it is matters of history that most often come up with the occasional reference to a Polybius sofa in cryptological talk there’s also a user named Bolivia’s who is quite active in old mag playboy between 1997 and 1998 narrowing the search domain to known groups helps improve results and one in particular is a nexus for arcade collectors wreck games video arcade collecting OG vac for short these guys are invested in arcade rarities because if something’s rare it’s valuable so calavius would be right up their alley one of the first instances of the work was posted in April 2000 just a couple of months after the game first appeared on coin-op dot-org posted by a user named NY mechanical pro8 a links to coin off dorg a reply to our request for information on an obscure German video game which triggered an association the EOP of this particular threat is a German fellow named Christian vinta also known as cyber yogi but we’ll get to him later on the 27th of February 2000 just three weeks after it was first posted to coin-op da org a user named supe posted a link on Polybius his page on click to calm no not the Greek historian an arcade game he says I am skeptical of

the claims made on the following page but they certainly make for interesting reading I actually spoke to Zoop I wondered how he had found Philebus he told me I simply wandered across it in one of my random walks on the net it was serendipity nothing more Google Groups a search is far from perfect so it is possible we’ve missed something so what about other Usenet archives a manual grep of the u-2 zoo net news archive from archive.org some 5 gigabytes of text when uncompressed yields just three results all of which refer to the historian a discussion of the evidence for the historical Jesus from net religion Christian in 1985 and a passing mention in net politics the same year I even tried a paid search of the Usenet archive a site that claims to be broader and more easily searchable when Google’s inherited data set I found zero results pre-2000 if there’s nothing within the Usenet archives perhaps another domain entirely will prove fruitful perhaps there is a mention of Polybius in print google books describes itself as the world’s most comprehensive index of full text books and it is freely searchable searching for polybius between the years 1980 and 2000 yields several pages of results but every single last one of them refers to the historian Google newspapers is a similar story Maps a more specific search is needed within the enthusiasts press perhaps in the 1980s and 90s video games were better served on magazines than any other media I searched nearly 200 gigabytes of gaming magazines over 3,000 issues worth for any instance of the word Polybius there were three results one from the September 1998 issue of acorn user a review of ancient Greeks a multimedia cd-rom another pair from two adjacent issues of Commodore user January and February 1986 programming listings for codes and cyphers on your Commodore micro and an implementation of the Peleus square that’s it the only instances of the word Polybius across 20 years of the gaming press if the Polybius myth existed prior to the year 2000 it wasn’t widespread to my knowledge no twentieth-century evidence exists it’s impossible to say for certain but with no trace of prior evidence we can only presume coin-op org is where the story began and whoever posted it there might be responsible for everything one name I’ve seen frequently implicated in the Polybius myth was a German fellow named Christine Oliver bindler also known as cyber yogi teach master of low ecology the first cyber age religion the denizens of our gback were quick to pin the blame for Polybius on him he had a bit of a reputation it seems it does all seem to fit he was in the right place at the right time and his interests align there’s also the German connection with Zenith lotion however I believe cyber yogi is innocent stop harassing me if this damned if I didn’t make polybius otherwise the men in black would now go after me I have absolutely nothing to do with it true he did pull an April Fool’s Day prank in 2000 he fabricated a supposedly lost East German variant of Phoenix true he was interested in obscure arcade games particularly trance inducing zona games and true he is a little eccentric but why would a native German speaker use a mangled word and if you didn’t want to be caught why use German at all why would he conduct two rather ornate pranks in the same year but why would he come clean about one but not the other critically how did he get an entry for the game or

coin up dot-org the coin op org domain has been around since 1993 although the earliest page capture dates back to late 1996 approaching the limits of the wayback machine back then the domain was home to the virtual coin op museum run by Stephen W Reiner it was a collection of photographs and articles relating to arcade machines however in 1998 Steven offered the coin op thought org domain to the users of the RG vac news group he didn’t have the time to maintain it and so sort someone who could make better use of it he ended up giving the domain to a web developer named Kurt Cola by August 1998 Kurt had taken ownership of the domain and had we launched the site as a games database in April 1999 he moved the site to a subdomain of click to calm and interestingly he mentions the addition of a German language version in early 2000 we see another flurry of activity the coin op site moves from a subdomain of click to calm to a subdirectory instead it’s around this time that the first evidence of polybius emerges by August 2000 the coin op site moved back to its own domain where it’s lived ever since so who provided the information for the site the bulk of the games database is sourced from community maintained lists of games some of which are still present in coin-op dot orgs knowledgebase and data contributed from other sites and projects the main arcade emulator for instance coin-op dot org has always had an open call for contributions the V presented entries for games are manually curated and incorporated into the database presumably by Kurt he had exact control over what appeared on the site and these always have that control so perhaps he received a tip about Polybius perhaps someone emailed him the description and he reproduced it in good faith maybe but if his intent was to maintain an accurate list of games why would he keep the text unaltered if most of his arcade collecting peers would quickly prepare to write it off as a hoax why would he update the entry in 2009 promising more information stay tuned the information which is geared to transpire finally remember the GamePro article the one that exposed Elias to a mainstream gaming audience and dispatched the single largest factor in the legends persistence today I spoke to the author of that article dynamic I lost him where he first found out about Polybius Kurt was the person who first tipped me off about polybius I’ve thought about it for a long time and ultimately I came to the conclusion some years ago that Kurt was probably just making all of this up and pulling the wool over my eyes and he sent it in as a tip to see if I would bite and obviously I bit everything pointed towards Kurt he was behind coin-op dot-org and thus responsible for the earliest confirmed emergence of the myth as an arcade enthusiast he would have been familiar with the games from Olivia’s era in fact he owned some of them as a web developer he would have had the necessary skills to forge a convincing looking screenshot he also had at least some familiarity with the German language but he wasn’t fluent and zenus Lotion he’s no stranger to internet fame either he’s the one behind the Taco Bell $2 bill refusal story under the Usenet shooter him captain sarcastic finally he had a motive he wanted to drive traffic to corner org and when he sent a tip-off to gain Pro magazine it paid off and immortalized the legend in any case to uncover the truth I was going to have to speak to it so I emailed him asked if he’d answer a few questions he said sure I asked him directly were you responsible for the game’s addition to the site if not who was the source where did the screenshot come from his answers one helpful he insisted the game was present on the site since day one a third of August 1998 despite the contradicting evidence he

went on the entries wording on coin org is very specific that’s all I’m allowed to comment on hmm I didn’t expect a confession but it was clear he wasn’t going to let me ruin his fun without some resistance by this point I was almost certain he was behind the Polly BIA Smith he was at the very least complicit so he was definitely hiding something but what did he mean by very specific wording my mind was cast back to the connection between polybius and cryptology the polybius square could the very specific wording of the Polybius entry be hiding something a coded message at this point are not even sure it could just be me reading between the lines a wild-goose chase but I suppose it’s worth a try rereading the text I noticed some unusual things the writing is odd with rather too many commas and some peculiar wording choices there’s also a spelling mistake disappeared with the missing E which is not necessarily unusual but it has gone untouched for 17 years maybe we never noticed him but he did notice a spelling mistake on the polybius Wikipedia article there’s an edit by a Kurt s collar made only 27th of October 2005 where it corrects the spelling of non-existent so maybe maybe the spelling is intentional but what does that mean perhaps word length is a factor perhaps his code needed a 10-letter word and nothing else would fit despite my suspicions my attempts to decipher a message that may or may not exist were fruitless besides code-breaking was outside the scope of my intention we already had an origin and we had a likely suspect maybe I was hoping for something more during my search for polybius his origin I had seen numerous claims that the myth first emerged on Usenet in 1994 but I never saw any direct evidence for this however there is one thing which definitely emerged on Usenet in 1994 a puzzle that has a startlingly similar name it’s called the Publius enigma anonymous claims of a hidden meaning within Pink Floyd’s the Division Bell album on alt music Pink Floyd an anonymous source emerged with cryptic clues few believed it at first but when the words enigma publius appeared in lights at a Pink Floyd concert well clearly there was something to it however to this day the publius enigma remains unsolved no hidden message was ever found the parallels could be a coincidence but I know Kerr was active on using it at the time so it’s fairly likely he was familiar with this story perhaps this might be part of the inspiration behind the polybius myth there was no shortage of ideas Philippe avid prankster in the late 90s government conspiracies were on vogue due to the popularity of the x-files couple was paranoia with the emergence of an exciting new digital frontier the internet was a fertile ground for ideas to spread a critical mass of gullibility one hoax that gained traction around this time was the Pacific Northwest tree octopus proof that people will even believe stories of ARPA bound cephalopods if you tell it earnestly enough this emerged that around the same time Kurt was working on Korg and again maybe part of the inspiration for polybius particularly the link to Portland for as long as there have been internet hoaxes there have been those who attempt to debunk them Snopes being perhaps the most famous example the site was born out of the alt law urban news group and while he won’t find any trace of the polybius myth fair there is some discussion given to video game related urban legends some of them are quite familiar we can even see hints of proto myths which might have helped form levius one legend states but if you’re able to attain a particularly impressive high score government agents FBI CIA or similar would seek you out why who knows

recruitment perhaps this is strikingly similar to the plots of the last starfighter in which a teenage boy is contacted by aliens in desperate need of a savior with his shoot-’em-up skills maybe the myth inspired the film or vice-versa it probably doesn’t matter the link between me FBI and arcades is further strengthened by the winners don’t use drugs campaign had appeared in all North American arcade games between 1989 and 2000 when how effective the anti-drug message was this not for me to say but the FBI seal is imprinted on the memory of every arcade guy from that time there’s also the very real possibility that the myths were inspired by real FBI involvement in the arcades between bootleg machines drugs and illegal gambling it’s entirely plausible that the men in black did raid the occasional arcade or seize the odd arcade machine however it’s far less likely that there was a coordinated plan to control the minds of gamers in arcades although the CIA did conduct mind-control experiments with its MKULTRA it was really more of a test of the utility of psychoactive drugs in combat and interrogation long fodder for conspiracy nuts but its lack of success is well-documented the government has dabbled in using video games as training aids Ataris battlezone for instance and even doom but a full-on mind-control conspiracy that’s a pretty far-out theory I think that the idea of the government having its act together to the point where they could put in an hour kid game in a town and use it to neuro linguistic elite program or otherwise brainwash the populists is a pretty scary one just due to the fact that when I was a kid literally every politician that I could think of was terribly frightened by video games so the thought that the government would understand technology and be able to use that against the rest of us I think is inherently creepy inherently cool another film with shades of polybius is the Bishop of battle from 1983 film nightmares a reflection of the feared potential heart of arcades as a hyper addictive game gradually takes control of a boy’s life as he attempts to beat the mysterious 13th level the rapid rise in the popularity of arcades particularly with children caused a bit of a moral panic in the early 80s most concerns were relatively unfounded the kids were there to play video games not for drugs or gambling but even so the pursuit of high scores through marathon play sessions could prove deleterious in 1981 brian morrow of beaverton portland suffered stomach discomfort after 28 hours of shooting for an asteroids record it wasn’t the video game that corsten but a heady mix of sleep deprivation with a cocktail of caffeine sugar the yard headache and upset stomach aside it’s difficult to find evidence of any serious injury that has come from video games however there was an arcade related death reported in 1982 peter Bukowski of south holland illinois was playing berserk when he collapsed it was a pre-existing heart condition possibly aggravated by stress but for some it was evidence that an arcade game could directly cause harm one very real risk of video games Campos is photosensitive epilepsy to those who are sensitive flashing images or patterns can trigger a seizure in the earliest days of the arcades this wasn’t commonly understood and so some flashing effects could be pretty intense couple that with a darkened room long play sessions despite not being particularly common eventually someone’s going to have a seizure the first reported case of a video game triggering such a seizure was in 1981 Astro fighter was one came implicated around this time today you can see the lasting effects of these concerns flashing effects are rare and in every manual for every game you’ll find the same boilerplate disclaimer oh sure back in the 90s an episode of Pokemon appeared on Japanese television

that caused seizures and sent 700 kids to the hospital and that was just at 30 frames per second imagine what you could do with that game at 50 or 60 I bet there were some Atari games that gave susceptible kids are not so happy Christmas I watched that band footage and they may feel weird the motif of harmful sensation is a recurring theme in fiction particularly in horror the idea that something can hurt you just by observing it from Medusa to the basilisk the ring Polybius a long line of legends sometimes they’re even self-propagating like chain letters or you have been spooked memes it’s a huge cliche but somehow the notion that you shouldn’t look compels us all the bohr culture is full of repeating patterns and as polybius took inspiration it too has influenced others it makes frequent cameos seen in the background of The Simpsons the Goldbergs Batman ink the llama soft version is a central focus in the less-than video by Nine Inch Nails we love to tell stories that send shivers down spines and with usual cynicism suspended the Internet has brought a new dimension to horror creepypasta is the latest face in a long line of folklore and quite a few focus on video games I mean even polybius itself fits the description there’s a whole parade of fictional games with a dark secret the tale of a haunted Zelda cartridge told in Bend round a forbidden game from the dark web in sad Satan and the supposedly lost PlayStation title ped Scott it’s a form of horror with mainstream appeal hence the popularity of Minecraft Sarah print Slenderman all five nights at Freddy’s it seems we have a hardwired attraction to mystery a desire to cast light on our fears and a what might lurk in the shadows Gaming is full of secrets and in a social setting like an arcade they can spread like wildfire rumors of our hidden screens secret characters and levels abound most were gated behind skill demands difficult to execute and so nearly impossible to verify it was easy to believe such secrets existed until a younger observer witnessing an arcade technician accessing the diagnostic menus must have been mind-blowing hidden options behind lock and key cryptic messages on screen such as the special function seen within the defender service options it’s no wonder that teen imagination run riot with possibility so what does that special function do it exits the diagnostic menu and returns to the game that’s it invariably when you cast a light on things they turn out to be mundane but the sounds and the experience of the arcades were a lot to take in with each play costing a coin most of us can only scratch the surface some games relegated to a fleeting glimpse lost to memory the human mind is an unreliable thing when it comes to recollection and when we hear stories like believe us the mind scrambles to make connections somewhere somehow maybe this is why some people swear they remember perhaps a lost memory triggered the details hazy but it must have been surely semi tricks cube quest from 1983 would have left quite an impression on anyone who saw it it’s hypnotic visuals and tempest style gameplay were unlike anything else of the era however it was an expensive cabinet and probably more expensive per play to recoup costs and laserdisc games were notoriously unreliable it’s entirely possible such machines would disappear silently and without trace north a conspiracy sake but for simple profitability there are plenty of rarities out there that went on cataloged for a long time take the East German poly play from 1985 for instance poly play has been implicated in the Olivia Smith the name is similar after

all and even the stylized P on the cabinet there’s a similarity to Polybius its logo previously forgotten one example appeared at Berlin’s computer Chapelle Museum around 1998 just prior to the emergence of Polybius there were a thousand or so units made they were found in swimming pools leisure centers all over but when the Berlin Wall fell the machines were recalled and destroyed just a few remain perhaps a government cover-up or maybe just an attempt to recover state-owned assets for profit who knows not every machine was as successful as Space Invaders pac-man Donkey Kong or Galaga there are countless games long forgotten obscurities bootlegs and prototypes of no interest to anyone but collectors not every game was catalogued not every ROM dumped and with the passage of time and the destruction of cabinets some may even be lost it’s a worrying void of uncertainty what if again core Polybius did exist after all it could be real like Russell’s teapot it’s impossible to entirely disprove its existence but the burden of proof lies with those telling the story with absolutely no evidence that predates the original story it’s safe to assume that it’s just a myth but from this melange of arcade mystery a myth like Polybius was almost inevitable and so as the Internet came of age that’s how it began a man inspired saw opportunity and hatched a plan a sprinkling of detail touch of paranoid nerve at the mysterious screenshot and you’re ready to serve it wasn’t enough for collectors well-seasoned most were quite cynical and with good reason as the tail almost stalled a new trick was needed a magazine tip-off ensured exposure was ceded an explosion of interest and any doubt drowned curious waves of the gullible him bound by now the story was simply too big to kill inscribed in folklore a coded forum post still an in-joke for arcade fans of spooky illusion and for low effort listicles an essential inclusion an indelible myth but at least we know the deal Polybius never existed but the legend is real thank you very much for watching and until next time so well