Urban legends frequently have a historical foundation. Before handling the mysterious narrative of the soul-devouring arcade game Polybius, let’s put it in a proper context. It’s widely known that the CIA has formally participated in a U.S. government-sanctioned top-secret project between 1953 and 1973, the infamous MKUltra. It took a Supreme Court hearing to the authorities to disclose the MKUltra documents, which explained in detail the exposure of unsuspecting “subjects”, from civilians to little groups, and even entire cities, to a number of medications, most especially the psychedelic chemical LSD, for mind control purposes.
According to congressional testimony, the Project MKUltra comprised 80 institutions, among which 44 schools and universities. The Project also tapped physicians, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical businesses. There is even a possible link between MKUltra and the Unabomber,
Mental Post-It: Interestingly, LSD’s most outspoken proponent, Dr. Timothy Leary, switched gears out of psychedelics to Virtual Reality in his late years, suggesting in his book Chaos and Cyber Culture (1994) that in the long run, 3D computer-generated encounters would supersede mind-altering medication.
This theory reminds me a lot of one of my favorite cult movies, the gory Videodrome, by David Cronenberg:
In the sixties, visual artist and writer Brion Gysin had an insight after reading a novel on the mind that discussed the occurrence of Neural Entrainment, the quantifiable capability to alter an individual’s brain waves through the modulation of certain frequencies of sound or light (the same principle of binaural beats).
Gysin insight led to the concept of a Dreamachine, a stroboscopic device meant to simulate the mind-altering effects of LSD through visual stimuli:
There are lots of Dreamachine simulators online, this one below made me nauseous, but try anyway if you are getting curious at this point:
Do you remember that banned Pokemon seizure scene?
The negative side effects of these mind-altering experiments converge to the mysterious arcade game Polybius and the urban legend around it.
Polybius allegedly appeared out of the blue in Portland, Oregon in 1981. And disappeared as fast as it came. It was a huge hit, drawing massive crowds, long lines, along with occasional fist fights. (Now I think of Pokemon Go…). For the brief time the arcade cabinets were around, they were occasionally visited by men dressed completely in black for the purpose of data-mining the machines and observe the players’ behavior.
Thanks for avoiding the neuralyzer!
When the craze was gone the negative side effects started to pop up: amnesia, insomnia, anxiety, nightmares and night terrors.
The existence of Polybius is uncertain partly because the very first time it was mentioned was on an anonymous online forum article from 1998. There’s nothing dating back to 1981 : no local news reports, no hospitalization documents, nothing. Nada, Niet. Zero.
Do you still believe the neuralyzer is just a wannabe dildo?