Imagine a game that that is so disturbing to play that it causes sleeplessness, nightmares, and even renders you unable to play any videogames afterward—for the rest of your life! Not my videogames!
Those are the kind of tales that have swirled around the urban legend Polybius, a game that allegedly lived in Portland, Oregon arcades for about a month in 1981 before disappearing without a trace. Ominous men in suits visited the arcade machines, not to collect coins, but to collect data on how people played the game.
Despite this nefarious legend, there’s never been tangible evidence that Polybius has ever actually existed. In fact, the earliest print-bound mention of the myth popped up in a 2003 issue of GamePro magazine, and nothing prior aside from internet hearsay in the 1990s. Yet one man is hinting about having played it. And that man is none other than psychedelic game designer and programmer Jeff Minter.
An all encompassing experience, minus all the psychoactive effects
It was a dark night in Basingstoke, England, when Minter received a mysterious call from a man he had met months prior in a beer-aided stupor. He agreed to meet with him, casting all worries of axe-wielding murderers aside, and found himself led to a warehouse filled with arcade cabinets. “It was a lovely sight, and one that you can rarely see in this day and age except in VR recreations of 80s arcades. It would have been worth the trip, and Basingstoke, just to have the chance to play on some of these old beauties,” Minter wrote in a blog post for Playstation. “But that wasn’t why I’d been brought there.”
It was in that warehouse that Minter says he played the urban legend, though he never speaks its name. As time has passed, fragments and glimmers of the experience have returned to his memory. And now, with Playstation VR, he hopes to recreate that experience. Or at least, recreate how playing it made him feel—an all-encompassing game. Minus all the psychoactive effects, of course. “Despite all its speed and hyperstimulation, you actually find in play that the game has a relaxing, even a mildly therapeutic effect,” he wrote. “I can get up grumpy on a Monday morning but a few minutes in the headset has me feeling happy and serene.”
Minter’s work has nearly always had a psychedelic tinge, and not of the cliche 70s kaleidoscopic variety. From taking over the Tempest series in 1994 with Tempest 2000 to the 1984 light synthesizer Psychedelia, Minter has been concerned with the transcendent qualities of arcade shooters; in games that become ingrained in a person’s mind, whether they’re aware of their lasting effects or not. He is also really into llamas. He raises them and his software house is named Llamasoft. There is no word yet on any llama presence in Polybius.
You can read the entirety of Minter’s Playstation Blog post here. Polybius does not have a release date yet.