Polybius – Angry Video Game Nerd (Episode 150)
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Polybius – Angry Video Game Nerd (Episode 150)

September 6, 2019


They say there was once a game. A game unlike any other that infiltrated arcades in ’81 when gaming fever was hot. It captivated the youth who lined up in a magnetic trance to play it, at a price more than any coins were worth. They would succumb to an addiction more powerful than any drug, and be struck down by an illness more dreadful than any virus. Memory loss, nightmares, seizures, possibly suicide, were all attributed to its ambiguous wake of terror. And then, it vanished. Like a specter in the night. Its name… was Polybius. Well, damn. I gotta play it then! This review’s gonna be a little different than usual, because I can’t show any footage of the game if it doesn’t exist. They say it only existed in the Portland, Oregon area and that it was only there for a week or a month, and that there were only a few of them, or just one, or as I’ve been inclined to believe, none. It breaks the rarity scale. It’s so rare it probably never existed. But nobody really knows for sure, or those who know can’t prove it. Much of the myth could be explained with facts. There was a game called Poly-Play in ’85 which may be what people were actually remembering. It was eight games in one which seems to attribute to the conflicting descriptions of Polybius, or “Polee-bius” or however it’s pronounced. The most common description was that it was some kind of space shooter. Also there’s actual reports of gamers getting sick around that time, probably from playing too much video games. Supposedly, somebody got a migraine headache from playing an early release of Tempest. But even more severe, and very sad to say, someone died of a pre-existing heart condition shortly after entering his initials for the high score in Berzerk. The most specific account I know of which could have been the origin of the Polybius legend, is when a twelve year old boy was playing Asteroids in a long marathon to get the high score, and got a stomach sickness. This was in November ’81 in Portland. The time and place of Polybius. A big part of the legend is that the Polybius machines were visited by mysterious men in black suits. FBI, CIA, MIB, your usual alphabet soup of government conspiracy. Some say Polybius was part of a top-secret experiment using humans as the guinea pigs, even connecting it to an actual mind-control program called MKUltra. Another possible source of the legend could be actual reports of FBI agents raiding arcades around that time, where the owners were suspected of gambling. There was also a game called Battlezone which had a special version designed for the military to use as a combat simulator for training purposes. There was also a movie, The Last Starfighter, where a teenager gets the high score in a game but the game turns out to be a tool for recruiting fighters in an intergalactic war. The movie was in ’84, a few years after the Polybius legend is said to have occurred. So the movie could have been inspired by it, or the other way around. No early references of Polybius can be traced. The myth started getting traction later, sometime between ’98 to 2000, the Coinop website, which is a resource for arcade listings added an entry for Polybius, but with hardly any information. This is the earliest confirmed mention of the game anywhere. In 2003, it was featured in GamePro magazine and in 2006, someone by the name Steven Roach posted a lengthy statement saying that he was one of the game designers shedding light on the story, but I think it’s a hoax. On the internet, anybody can say anything without any basis of fact. The internet is made up of 90% prime-cut, free-range, Grade-B bullshit. In fact, when a bull takes a shit, it decomposes into digital matter which evaporates into cyber airwaves and becomes internet. Now you know. Whatever the case, the Polybius legend caught on like wildfire. Many people have made playable PC games, even fake arcade cabinets, a home-brew Atari 2600 game, even a PS4 game. There’s been fan-films, documentaries, a thousand YouTube videos, it appeared on The Simpsons, everybody’s done it to death. The only thing that hasn’t been done is for somebody to play the actual game and document it publicly. Even if the game once existed, it may be gone forever and that’s probably for the best. I’d hope nobody would ever come face to face with a game so destructive. But then again I also hoped nobody would ever play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but that happened. So in that same tradition, I’m gonna subject myself to the torment, because I found a possible lead to Polybius. If it’s real, consider this a test to see what psychological effects it may have on me. So I’m at an arcade reseller right now, and my instinct tells me not to reveal the location just yet, until I can determine if this is the current resting place of Polybius. Now the owners recently acquired a large batch of games from another arcade shop that was liquidating their supplies. And they were kind to let me see the invoice, and on it… is Polybius. It’s probably a joke, but they did nothing to draw attention to it. They didn’t post anything about it online. I was actually waiting for them to bring it up but they didn’t, so the only way to know is, to see if it’s here. They granted me permission and full access to the place which is great. And uhh, look right here, this is The Simpsons arcade. So there’s so many great things here, I should be checking out all these games but, gotta stay focused! Well… umm… This is, Polybius! It is probably a fake, you know like I said before, a lot of people have made fake cabinets. There’s no artwork on the side or anything. Which, you know, fits the description pretty much. But the real test would be, uhh… See if I could turn this thing on. Okay, let’s cross our fingers here. Let me borrow a power supply from this machine here. Here we go, let’s see what happens. Marquee’s up. We have the marquee! And… Somebody put a lot of effort into this! …If it’s a fake. If it’s a fake. What if it’s real? Let’s say it is, slim chance but you never know. What if it has dangerous effects and if those effects can be inflicted over a video recording? Doesn’t have to be supernatural, it could legitimately cause epilepsy or something. I wouldn’t want to endanger anybody. I want to do the right thing, so I’m not gonna show the game. At least not until I fully test it on myself, so for now I’ll just… describe the game the best I can. Well, it’s a game. Is it a good game? Not really… it’s an average, early 80’s arcade game, if it IS early 80’s, it’s probably fake. …but no way of knowing for sure. I’d describe it as Tempest, it’s probably the best way to describe it. You’re flying through a three-dimensional tunnel with green and black vector-type graphics. There’s… cubes coming at you and you’re a triangle and you move around and try to catch these cubes. And that’s really… about all there is to it I think. It’s a shame I’m surrounded by so many awesome games, but I’m stuck here playing this. It’s… not that special. I should just probably show you the game. But, I wanna wait a bit I just… Wanna play it safe. I’ll post the video for the night. I’ll sleep on it, and let me know what you think. So I posted my first day’s test of playing Polybius and I’ve gotten lots of responses. Lots of people are saying it’s fake, which I agree with so far. I haven’t felt any weird side effects from playing it or anything. I just thought it was an average arcade game, and even if it was a real arcade game that was made in the 80’s and called Polybius, that would only confirm that the game is real. But all the stories about addiction, memory loss, nightmares, seizures, that could all be explained without the supernatural, like all the stuff I talked about before. Like the gamer who got sick while playing Asteroids. Probably had more to do with him playing the game for so long and drinking lots of soda. With any game, you gotta take a break. Speaking of which, I think I’ve taken a long enough break from Polybius so, I’m about to go back and play it some more, but first, I just want to read this really interesting email I got here. Which I’m sure is a hoax but, either way, it’s pretty interesting, so I’ll just read it here. “Big fan of your work but I’ll get straight to the point. Saw your Polybius Day 1 video. It’s real.” “Judging from cabinet and your description, don’t expect you to take my word,” ‘”but it matches everything my father told me before he died.” “He worked for a secret government agency in charge of investigating unexplained phenomena.” “They found Polybius, an arcade. They removed it to keep the public safe.” “Kept it contained in a secret facility. My father was in charge of looking after it,” “and became infatuated with playing.” “It took over his mind. He was forced to leave the agency and he smuggled the game out.” “He hid it somewhere. He was sentenced to prison for federal theft.” “There died a raving lunatic.” “I never knew where he hid the game, but I’ve always believed he hid it in plain sight in another arcade.” “But it possibly sat in a backroom.” “It was a dull cabinet, no artwork, the owners possibly kept it in the back” “to leave more space for more appealing games on main floor.” “Now it ends up at the place you’re at. You must not continue.” “I know this sounds silly but please do not play further. You must destroy the game.” Destroy it? I only do that to bad games. This game was actually… pretty average or, I don’t know it’s… Worth playing. Okay, giving Polybius another chance now… You know… I’m starting to think it’s above average. A little bit. It’s simple, but it’s intuitive. I’m tempted to show it, because it’s really nothing crazy. But I just wanna be safe. It’s one of these games that repeats itself. In many of these old arcade games, you just play the same thing over and over again to get a high score — this is a lot like that. Not much left to say, so… Just one more game, and then I’ll go home. I let it set on free play, so I don’t need any coins. So I’ve played through twice more now, um… Thrice, actually. And… I’m beginning to see more merits in the gameplay. In fact, if you were to put this into perspective; If this actually came out in the 80’s, I may rank it as one of the best classic arcade games. Alright, I’m getting ready to go home for the night, I think I have enough material here — let me just see… Oh. How long have I been here, geez? I’ve definitely gotten enough footage — of me, that is. I know I haven’t shown anything of the game, uhh, but, even if I did, I don’t think it would do it justice, because, the thing is… When you play it, it doesn’t demand any kind of urgent level of thinking, sort of like… Watching a waterfall flow. It’s constant… Predictable… Natural… Okay, I really gotta get going… I just switched the card here, this is number… Whatever… Um… So I’m all set up, I’m ready for tomorrow… But I don’t think there’s much left to do. Although I remembered one tiny piece of trivia. Polybius, or “Po-lee-bius,” whichever it is, was the name of a Greek historian. He covered the rise of the Romans and invented the Polybius square, which is a form of code that translates letters into numbers by their placement on a grid. Well, it’s very complicated to explain… … oh, sorry, uh… I was gonna say something, but I forgot… Oh yeah, yeah, there’s a little piece of trivia I remembered… Polybius was the name of a Greek historian, He covered the rise of the Romans and invented the Polybius square… Did I say that already? Okay, I’m done! … Just one more game! So this is Day 3, I was gonna come up with something more to say here, but I really… just, it would help if I just had the game in front of me right now, so I could… play it… I know I’ve played it a lot so far, but I just need a little more, I just… There’s just not much to it, but I really just… I dunno, I just… I just need to play it again. I might have to commend the game designers. This… may be the greatest fucking game ever made! Who made it, you may ask? Well, according to the game and to popular legend, it was a company called Sinneslöchen, which I’ve heard is a bad translation from English to German to create a fake German compound word, meaning “sense-delete” or “sensory deprivation.” Seems way too convenient. I don’t feel like my senses are deprived, at all! I feel like my senses are heightened more than ever! I can see every pixel, every spec of light… I can smell the paint on the Pac-Man machine in the next room… I can hear the crickets… The rats, clawing on the sewer walls… I can hear the colors. I can hear the colors. Oooh, I can’t stop playing! I can’t stop!! Okay, I need to show this right here. The camera was pointing right at the screen, and there’s the tripod, haven’t moved it. It’s right there, how did the tripod get there, and why… why was it… looking at the screen?! Alright, so… I’m about to upload tonight’s footage. But… I took a look at some of it first. And… I have about an hour of footage of the game. And keep in mind, I have no intention of showing the game yet, so… I have no recollection of doing that! But… The crazy thing, right before that… This happens! I swear, I have no recollection of doing that. Or this. Alright, so I deliberately locked myself in, using my own word combination lock from my camera case… And I’ve tried every word that I would normally use, and… nothing works, so.. I did this shit on purpose?! I changed the… the fuckin’ combination lock?! Film myself doing it? Like, what the fuck?! T- there is a big loading door on the other side of all this, somewhere… So I can’t get to that. I have some options here… I could do some damage to the door, or I could just wait for somebody to come, but I think I’m gonna throw in the towel here and say: Come get me! The location is… UGH!! Oh my god… This fuckin’ game… Not yet. I’ll let you know when. It’s Day 3… … or whatever it is… um… I have a high score now, I don’t remember when I got the high score, it’s 35,311,151. I… I just wanna get that again, and once I do that I’ll call it quits. No I won’t, I’ll just keep fuckin’ playing, because I can’t — I can’t stop playing this fuckin’ game!! Just look at it! No! Don’t look at it! Every day I have to keep editing out footage of the game, because… … ‘cuz it wants to be seen. It… want… it… fuckin’ wants… To be seen. [sobbing] My mind has been opened to things that I never wanted to know. Things that I… see that no — … nobody… all the connections with Greek… Polybius… No. More like the ferryman on the River Styx You give him a coin, he takes you across the river… … into the underworld. [sobbing] Somebody, come get me!! The location is — It won’t let me go… it won’t let me go… it won’t let me go… It won’t let me go! … it won’t let me… it won’t let me… … it… it won’t let me… Come get me, the location — … it won’t… let me… let myself — ! Look at the game! Look — N— no! Don’t look at it! Look, look at — Don’t look at it!! Look at — DON’T!! [grunting] You… if you can keep me from getting out, I can keep you from showing yourself, you fuckin’ game!! [grunting] Don’t look at it! Don’t look at it!! [sobbing] Wait a minute… That high score! It’s not a high score, that’s… It’s a message! Y- yeah, yeah, the Polybius square! [stammering] Th- 35 is P, and then… 31 is L… w-w- 1 is A, and then… and then… It’s PLAY! It’s PLAY! The- the- th- the combination is PLAY! [mumbling] That’s it… That’s it! It worked! It worked!! It worked!! Oooohhh!!! Ooohhh, you fuckin’ game!! The only way it’ll let me go is… if I show the game! [sobbing] I have to, I have no choice… I can’t stand this anymore… Just… I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry! Just… [sobbing] Just don’t look! Don’t look! Turn the video off right now! Once you see it… it’s in you forever. 53 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 34 53 42 33 54 34 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 53 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 34 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 53 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 3453 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 3453 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 34 53 13 11 45 53 43 21 42 54 34 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 11 15 51 23 51 34 54 21 44 42 44 13 51 22 11 22 34 11 24 51 12 43 24 33 51 24 41 34 What’s going on? Hello? Well, the camera’s here… Well, there’s the game… [screaming] [screaming]

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  1. Subscribe to our official Reddit to discuss Angry Video Game Nerd episodes, give suggestions and talk Cinemassacre in general! https://www.reddit.com/r/TheCinemassacre/

  2. This episode of AVGN and the Berenstain Bears episode, and the Mega Man episode are my all-time favourites. I love this horror/story-oriented type of video.

  3. This is a Cinemasterpiece. I have to come back and watch it every now and then. Something about it just keeps me coming back.

  4. Another reference to Polybius is in the book "Armada" by Ernest Cline, the same author of Ready Player One. In Armada the Government has actually been funding sci-fi video games and movies for decades in order to get people ready for an impending Alien Invasion that is fought off by earths best gamers of a popular video game called "Armada". Polybius (in that book) was one of the early government experiments.

  5. Wow.
    It is in me forever…
    I feel…
    Scared…
    Hajdj ksmxmskxkkkkolkjmskkskxdxkskxksk kkvkkkkkkksavekkskckskckskkckcmdjskskxjksjxjxksmekdkdmskdkskxkskxkkskxksospleasekdkdkskxkdkskwkskskskskskakskshelp!slskskskskskshelpsskskskskskskksplease…didmxkdksksksksksksskks

  6. Avgn, I absolutely love your videos. Even the old ones. When people wanna be mean to me, you always make everything better. You are the best. 😭😌

  7. Hah, everyone in possession of a Tempest arcade machine is contractually obligated to re-skin the cabinet to Polybius.

  8. 7:14 SINNESLOSCHEN would be correct if written "SINNESLÖSCHEN" its still no correct german but could be translated to mind delete. Oh i see he talks about it later 😀

  9. At 17:58 look inside the asteroid game behind you there is something there it look like it wearing a gas mask it weird

  10. I know he didn't mean it but the latter half of the episode really reminds me of addiction to something. Where if you're deep enough you can't help it, to the point where it feels like an outside force takes you over when you're trying to resist.

  11. I was surprised at how well you turned this episode into a full blown creepypasta, i was incredibly immersed and drawn in to the story, 10/10 you just got my sub

  12. Should've looked at the board. See what chips were used. Most chips have codes that you could tell an exact manufacture date. It's likely that a reman would use newer chips. Polybius would have chips from 1981 or earlier.

  13. Wow. No lie at 6:45 right when he said "turn this thing on" my internet froze, and it NEVER does that. I thought it was part of the video but it really froze for awhile then came back. Weird!!

  14. I don't know if it's real but I downloaded it on my Android phone I'm afraid to play it though LOL I'll probably just delete it well to be honest I played it a little bit but then I deleted it but I did find it on Android phone

  15. I really like this episode, maybe the game did existed but highly doubt it. Myths sometimes contain a bit of truth, they start of something

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