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'The Polybius Conspiracy' Explores The Reality Behind One Of Gaming's Darkest Urban Legends

'The Polybius Conspiracy' Explores The Reality Behind One Of Gaming's Darkest Urban Legends
From Uproxx - October 9, 2017

Here are the facts, as we know them. In 1981, Bobby Feldstein was abducted from his Portland home and reappeared, a day later, 60 miles away, deep in the Tillamook State Forest. He was dirty and barefoot, his clothes torn, and had clearly spent some time stranded in the woods. Who abducted Bobby and why has never been discovered, but Bobby has spent years claiming it was thanks to an arcade game, called Polybius.

The Polybius Conspiracy, from Jon Frechette and Todd Luoto tackles Feldsteins story while examining the phenomenon of urban legends and how they can take on a different meaning via a seven-episode miniseries from Radiotopias Showcase. At heart, Feldsteins story is about horrors we experience and how we try to piece together a way to live with them. But the legend behind Polybius is worth exploring on its own, not least because it turns out to be realin its own way.

Video games have always had urban legends, but the Polybius story is different. It wasnt about hidden nude images or secret game modes: Polybius was out to kill you. Supposedly appearing in Portland arcades in 1981, it was allegedly addictive to the point violence broke out, and those who did play it couldnt sleep, wracked with night terrors and insomnia. It was a powerful legend that lurked in arcades, whispered between kids, for decades. There were a number of peopleranging from gaming historians and journalists to famous authorswho first heard about a sinister unnamed arcade game as teenagers, beginning all the way back in 1981 and extending to the early 1990swell before initial online reports. In all of these tales, the game didnt have a name, yet it shared many similarities with what would eventually become the Polybius legend, Luoto tells us.

Eventually, Polybius became among the earliest urban legends to spread through the internet. Back in 2000, the website CoinOp.org attempted to catalog the thousands of arcade games that came and went between Pong and the present. It wasnt uncommon for volunteers to add obscure games to the database. So, at first, nobody notice the addition of Polybius . But the description, which is stored on the Internet Archive, quickly caught the attention of users:

The bizarre rumors about this game are that it was supposedly developed by some kind of weird military tech offshoot group, used some kind of proprietary behavior modification algorithms developed for the CIA or something, kids who played it woke up at night screaming, having horrible nightmares.

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