Industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails’ new music video revokes one of the biggest urban legends of video games – Polybius. The band announced the release of their upcoming new EP Add Violence, which comes out on July 21, with the release of a new single, Less Than, accompanied by a music video.
The video shows a woman staring into an old standard-definition tv while she plays a customised version of the retro arcade-style game Polybius. Her eerily blank eyes stare endlessly into the game’s colourful visuals and its “lucid psychedelia”, turning more and more zombie-like as the video goes.
At first glance, it may seem like a regular lyric video, but there may be more than meets the eye.
The game itself is a modern-day virtual-reality game designed by Jeff “Llamasoft” Minster, which was released earlier in 2016 for PlayStation 4. Trent Reznor, NIN’s frontman and an avid gamer who has scored music for video games before, wanted to blend the game with the music video.
The legend goes that Polybius was released in 1981 around Portland, Oregon as an arcade game that induced intense psychoactive and addictive effects in the players. The game was alleged to be a secret government-run psychology experiment for data mining, since men in black were routinely seen fiddling with the game cabinets. The game was believed to have induced detrimental physical and mental effects, including suicidat tendencies, and completely vanished from existence about a month afterwards. However, none of this was authoritatively proven, including its very existence.
Minster’s 2017 Polybius is a take on the classic urban legend. He thought “it’d be neat to do something inspired by all that, but using modern VR techniques to make it super immersive and awesome.” He describes his game as psychoactive, too, but in an almost meditative, harmless way that relaxes its users.