It’s spooky season again! To celebrate I’m writing two ultra-spooky Halloween themed posts! If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my long-form post last year about another haunted game, Petscop. But this year, I present you with a new chilling haunted video game story. Today’s post will be exploring Polybius: The Haunted Arcade Game.
The story of this haunted game first circulated in the early 2000’s. The main premise of this mysterious story is that in Portland, Oregon back in 1981, a number of random arcade machines popped up one day. These arcade machines were named, Polybius. The mysterious game allegedly gave players a number of strange side effects after playing. This included: amnesia, insomnia, night terrors and even hallucinations.
Additionally, there were rumours of mysterious men in black suits taking data from the Polybius arcade machines. This led to the idea that it was some sort of government experiment. The systems were around for apparently only a month before they all mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again.
So, is it a true story?
Considering the first mention of this story occurred on an old forum site called coinop.org on February 6, 2000, it’s very unlikely that after all these years we will ever know for sure if it’s a true story or not. The general consensus is that this falls more into the ‘urban legend’ category.
However, over the years multiple people have come out stating that they played the game and shared their stories. This includes Bobby Feldstein, who claimed he was abducted while playing the game and now produces content around his experience. He suffered mind alerting side effects and after being abducted, was found the next day 60+ miles away from his home.
Just because we don’t know if it’s true, that hasn’t stopped the internet from coming up with some incredible theories of the potential origin of Polybius.
One of the biggest theories around this arcade game was that it was used to send subliminal messages to players. This was why so many people reported such awful side effects, as the game was experimenting on the player. This also explains the mysterious “men in black” that were also reported to be hanging around the machines. They were perhaps checking to see how well their mind control attempts had gone so far. This idea is only exacerbated by real world historical events that mirrored this, namely, the MK Ultra CIA experiments.
Another popular theory is that the arcade machines were used to recruit potential CIA or other government agents. The idea was that the games would test people’s mental capabilities, with only those deemed unworthy for the extra special organization experiencing side effects. In this theory, the men in the black suits were checking the results to see if anyone who had played had passed their tests. The main drawback of this theory in my eyes though, is why only set them up in Portland, Oregon? Surely, you’d want to test from a wider pool. This also does work in well with Feldstein’s story, and perhaps his kidnapping had been a result of him passing the test? We may never know.
Just a story derived from coincidence
The final theory is that this was just a big misunderstanding. It’s possible the Polybius story all began after 2 players both fell ill in arcades in Portland on the same day. These were due to entirely unrelated events, and both of them were playing other named games. Additionally, records from the FBI indicate that they raided a bunch of different arcades in the area just ten days later. This was as many of the arcades were suspected of using their machines for gambling. This led to FBI agents monitoring arcade machines for signs of tampering etc, which might have led people to make other assumptions about their sudden appearance.
So, that is the story of Polybius: The Haunted Arcade Game.
Whether the arcade machine ever really existed at all remains a mystery, however it has certainly cemented itself in popular culture as one spooky story.
Make sure to check out our other 2020 spooky post on some great horror games to play right HERE! Happy Halloween!
SOURCES: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polybius_(urban_legend) https://www.pdxmonthly.com/arts-and-culture/2017/11/polybius-the-most-dangerous-arcade-game-in-the-world https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-05-22-polybius-the-story-behind-the-worlds-most-mysterious-arcade-cabinet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKUltra https://www.coinop.org/Game/103223/Polybius https://www.radiotopia.fm/showcase/the-polybius-conspiracy/