What follows is hard to explain and admittedly sounds like something out of a twilight zone episode, and maybe… that’s just what it was. A moment in time where the laws of reality broke.
About two weeks ago I was on the app store on my phone looking for new Cardboard VR apps… what can I say? I like VR and Cardboard VR is affordable! And if you use one of those micro USB to USB type A converters you can plug in a USB hub and attach a keyboard or even a mouse and get some decent VR capability for relatively cheep! 😛 😉
Anyway, after a little browsing of the “new releases” I stumbled across an app called Polybius VR by a company I had never heard of before (Sinneslöschen Inc.) and it didn’t have any reviews yet and not many downloads either but since it was free I thought why not, it’s easy enough to uninstall if it’s not interesting, right?
The app was huge (a few hundred MB) and took a couple of minutes to download which isn’t that unusual for VR apps.
I was home alone and would be all evening, so while Polybius was downloading I microwaved some Ramen noodles and refilled my JPL Women In Space mug with coffee, I love mine slightly bitter and black.
I sat back down at my bedroom desk then paused to lookout my window and enjoy the blood red and purple Los Angeles sky as the sun sank low.
I sipped my coffee and got comfy in my chair. My keyboard was on my lap so I can use it while in VR. I put nail polish on the WASD keys as well as a few others so that I can find them without having to remove the VR headset. 😎 😉
I start Polybius and slide my phone into the headset and adjust the straps while the app loads.
In all directions I see an infinite abyss except for directly below me, where I see the sentence “(C) 2018 Sinneslöschen Inc.” glowing blue like copper sulphate crystals. The font is unusual, blocky and almost pixel like.
Out of the murky black void in front of me the words Polybius VR erupt and grow to become the only thing in my view.
The words seem to be about size of a single story building and were wrapped in polygonal chains that seemed to crawl like cellular automatons. The lines vibrated and jittered all over the text changing shape to envelop the words. The effect oscillated between a smooth gradient and jagged pixel edges which gave the effect that sometimes the lines were eating away at the text like acid.
It’s at this point where things start to get weird.
For lack of a better term I’d describe it as “missing time”. The experience for me seemed to only last a few minutes and all I recall seeing was the copyright text followed by the Polybius VR logo which flash several times in very rapid succession and then the screen on my cellphone just went black.
I pulled off the headset and frantically removed my phone to reveal that the screen was cracked, which was disappointing and that’s putting it mildly!
That’s when I gazed out my window again, only to realize that I could see stars in the sky!
As I said, my perceived experience was at most, only a few minutes had passed but the clock on the wall begged to differ when it read 8:57 PM. My computer and microwave also confirmed that roughly three hours had passed from when I first sat down.
After a more thorough examination of my phone it appeared that the battery had exploded and fused the entire thing into a paperweight.
I remembered I had installed the app on my SD card so I thought to recover it from the scrap but frustratingly it was also damaged beyond recovery, though thankfully I had my photos backed up!
I used my desktop to access the app store where I immediately searched for Polybius VR but nothing related came up.
Desperate for some reassurance of my own sanity I turned to Google like anyone in my position would and typed ‘Polybius’.
The very first link returned did little to alleviate my growing concern. The Wikipedia article “Polybius (urban legend)” opens with this sentence:
“Polybius is a fictitious arcade game, the subject of an urban legend…”
How could it be an urban legend? It was real! I installed it and it fried my phone, not to mention distorting my perception of time for 3 hours!
I spent the better part of the next week researching the Polybius urban legend only to turn up myth after half truth. Website after website full of internet rumors, hoaxers and fake news.
I even reached out to a couple of grey-hat’s I used to work with to see if they knew of anyone who was working in wetware that might be able to pull off a hack that would cause something like missing time.
They both told me the same thing… Polybius was a myth and nobody was even close to that level of biohacking.
Piecing all the “facts” together for myself the Polybius urban legend seems to go as follows…
In the summer of 1981 somebody (usually claimed to be the CIA but sometimes it’s shadow mega corporations… aliens?) formed the mythical shell company “Sinneslöschen Inc.” with the clandestine charge of conducting civilian thought control experiments on unsuspecting people.
I half expect Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to show up any minute!
The Polybius project is said to have centered around using arcade games (it was the 80s) to attempt to turn anyone into a mindless puppet.
Few credible witnesses have ever come forward but one overwhelmingly reoccurring theme among all the Polybius stories is an “addictive” effect experienced by players.
Some claiming it became the only thing they could think about even when they weren’t playing… which I guess these day’s is pretty understandable. I mean, we’ve all known someone (or been that someone) who was so into a game that we describe them as ‘addicted’.
The typical scenario told goes something like this, Polybius players would leave the house in the morning feeling the weight of pockets full of quarters!
Then wait, aching long hours while the clock shortened the distance between them and their next chance to play.
Once let out of work or school on their own recognizance the race between them and everyone else who wanted ‘THEIR’ machine was on!
You were lucky if you were an adult because it meant you had a car and could get the arcade first, pump the machine full of quarters till basic economics forced you to relinquish the machine to the next player, who in turn did the exact same thing.
Hours would churn and abused buttons induced pixels to strobe and undulate in hypnotic patterns while the polyphonic beeps rhythmically danced their strange digital melody.
In addition to the additive effect described by players some reports describe a “Polybius intoxication” others have refer to it as a sort of “madness” or “stupor”.
People who played Polybius for long stretches were described to occasionally experience something like a seizure and then followed by what appeared to be a coma lasting anywhere from minutes to hours after which they would wake up & remain “blank & zombie like” for some time.
Additional side effects caused by playing Polybius were reported to be: amnesia, insomnia, night terrors, hallucinations, and rare unprovoked aggressive episodes.
One site poorly sourced a quote from an Oregon newspaper from the early 80’s describing a public arcade event where several Polybius machines were observed by an audience of a few dozen people for an extended amount of time. It was reported that several of the players & audience members became sick, they described some of the symptoms of Polybius intoxication as well as “zombie like behavior” by those afflicted.
Putting urban legends aside, I’m still left with the question of what really happened that night?
I’d dismiss all of this outright as myth, half truth, internet rumors, hoaxers and fake news if it wasn’t for my experience with Polybius VR.
Is it possible that a neurohacker terrorist somewhere discovered a technique that could perhaps “reboot” a brain just by showing you some images?
The idea isn’t as sci-fi as it may seem. It turns out that a condition called confabulation can occur in both biological and artificial neural neural networks, so maybe someone figured out how to trigger a buffer overflow in a brain and packaged it in a VR app!
The idea that some faceless attacker could take control over your mind seems to be the ultimate violation of self.
Maybe my phone battery just died and my computer, microwave and the atomic clock on my wall collectively suffered from the same glitch. Perhaps this was just an elaborate prank at the expense of anyone who was unfortunate enough to install Polybius VR…
Or perhaps it’s all true and there really are monsters that lurk in the shadows ready to devour us just as soon as the flashlight battery dies.
It stands to reason that I will never truly know what happened to me that night and the events of those three hours will remain forever shrouded in my nightmares.
I guess if there’s a moral to be found here at all it would be… be careful what you install!
And with that, Happy Halloween everyone! Be safe out there tonight & If you come across an app called Polybius VR in the app store, do yourself a favor and take a pass on that one! 😉
Remember to like, share and follow & if you are one of the few other people to have downloaded Polybius VR before it mysteriously disappeared from the app store, consider leaving your personal experience below in the comments and since you’re still reading, why not help me grow…
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