Nerd Legends – ‘Polybius’

Polybius was born around 200BC in Megapolis, Arcadia. In his succeeding years, he lived in Rome and charted the many events that transpired there throughout his life, as well as his fame for cryptography. Unfortunately, my dear readers– this is not the Legend you are looking for. Let’s wave goodbye to Old Man Polybius for now, as Nerd Reactor takes you to the pits of Tartarus to unearth:



Stories state that in 1981, arcades in Portland, Oregon, were supplied with a machine that looked like any other. They were wrong, they were supplied with darkness! And players who touched this game would go to madness, suffer anxiety, nightmares, and be struck with the need to meet death. And just as it came, it suddenly disappeared not long after it arrived.

Polybius itself was considered a hit, a dangerous addiction which led to the varying form of psychoses. And because of this game, some players stopped gaming altogether, while one reportedly became an antigaming activist.

Ed Rotberg, the creator of Polybius, led the team under the name of the company, Sinnesloschen (German for “sense delete”). Providing gameplay of Tempest, which was a shoot-em-up vector game in arcades at the time. Stories say that the company was either a secret government organization or codename for Atari, as it was believed that data was being collected over responses to psychoactive machines.



The Polybius legend gained traction. Although rumored to have started in the late days of UseNet, a 2003 issue of GamePro magazine listed it in one of the video-game urban legends column, “Secrets and Lies”. And while the other items in their list were either deemed True or FalsePolybius was deemed Inconclusive.

In 2011, a claim of the machine’s existence was made in Newport, Oregon, but vanished soon after the reports. Furthermore, in 2012, a Polybius cabinet was seen in a barcade (bar/arcade) within Brooklyn, New York. However, the machine in Brooklyn was later revealed to be a Halloween joke.

Backtracking to 2006, Steven Roach admitted to being involved in the development of Polybius on, hoping to lay the legends to rest. Steven’s claim stated that he worked for a company in South America that wanted to express a new approach to gaming. A month later, Duane Weatherall of interviewed Steven. Through the interview, various inconsistencies were found and much of the information seemed to have been derived from Wikipedia information.



With no strong origin in sight, a Sinneslochen website came online in July 20, 2007. On this website, a freeware Polybius game became available. Created in DarkBASIC, the game was created with heavy influence from the interview with Steven Roach and messages implemented from the 1988 movie They Live. Given that the website of Sinneslochen and the freeware games site, RogueSynapse, share the same IP, it is believed that Polybius was programmed by the same person for both those sites.

There are several videos on YouTube showcasing footage of the game. But please be WARNED, the colors and rotating graphics in the gameplay can cause epileptic shock. And because of this, I have not included the YouTube links in this post. Nerd Reactor doesn’t want any of you in a vegetative state! This isn’t the time for Soylent Green!


Aside from the image above, Polybius has made cameos throughout culture. Whether the late G4 channel, Escapist magazine, Hack/Slash, or from Musician/Performer – Viking Jesus. Okay, Viking Jesus is a pretty epic name and that’s the only reason why I’m referencing him!

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