Video Games
Legend, or Urban Legend? The Tale of Polybius

Liz Finnegan | 5 Jun 2015 10:00
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Frechette says he has always, and continues to, operate from a place of skepticism. This is not, however, to be confused with disbelief.

"If Polybius were real, I'd be less concerned about the negative effects of the game itself and far more concerned about the people behind it" Frechette told me in an email interview. "We live in a world where there's an incredible mistrust of the government in certain spheres. There's indisputable proof that the CIA had a secret mind-control program (MK-Ultra). Is it so farfetched that they might try to impose that technology on popular entertainment?"

In order to determine the likelihood of Polybius existing, it's wise to evaluate whether each of the individual claims have a basis in reality.

An Arcade Game Caused Kids In Oregon To Get Sick

This claim has, in fact, been confirmed - just not as the reaction to one specific game.

In Oregon in November 1981, 12 year old Brian Mauro fell ill after playing Asteroids for 28 straight hours, during an attempt to break the world record. Researcher Catherine DeSpira reported in a 2012 edition of online vintage gaming publication Retrocade that a Michael Lopez developed a severe migraine headache while playing Tempest on the same day and in the same arcade as Brian Mauro. Lopez was reported to the police when he was found collapsed on someone's lawn. Reports of other children in the surrounding weeks also becoming sick at arcades were unable to be appropriately verified; however two sick children in the same arcade, on the same day, is the perfect seed for paranoia.

Government's Intentional Brainwashing Attempts

In the 1950's, the Unites States Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) recruited more than 1,500 scientists, technicians, and engineers from Nazi Germany as part of a program called Operation Paperclip. The most shocking series of experiments to arise from this operation was called Project MK-ULTRA, the name given to a program that consisted of a series of experiments on human subjects, many without their knowledge. The goal of this project was to develop methods of interrogation and torture though the development of certain drugs and procedures, with the intention of forcing confessions through mind control.


MK-ULTRA scientists and doctors used many drugs, most commonly LSD, as well as sensory deprivation, verbal and sexual abuse, and various forms of torture with the intention of manipulating people's mental states and to alter their brain functions. In addition to directly administering drugs in controlled areas - such as hospitals, prisons, and universities - documents have shown that scientists were exploring the potential of aerosol distribution of certain drugs in order achieve the same goals.

The program was officially halted in 1973 and the records ordered to be destroyed by CIA Director Richard Helms. Although the mis-filing of many of the included reports led to thousands of them surviving and being released, it's proved impossible to gain full understanding of the more than 150 sub-projects of MK-ULTRA. While it is also impossible to estimate the number of deaths that resulted, one name has become nearly synonymous with the project as a whole: Frank Olson.

Olson was a U.S. Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, who was allegedly given LSD as part of a CIA experiment without his knowledge in 1953. One week later, Olson was found dead, said to have committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window. Days earlier, Olson quit his job for a "severe moral crisis" involving his biological chemicals research, as well as the CIA's use of LSD and cooperation with former Nazi soldiers. In 1994, the body of Frank Olson was exhumed, revealing that he was knocked unconscious prior to exiting the window, and has since been treated as a homicide. Olson's family insists that Olson was murdered out of fear that he would divulge information about the secretive projects.

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