Zombie Apocalypse games always come down to resources. Sometimes it’s guns, sometimes it’s oil, sometimes it’s food, or people, or time. In Dan Enders’ The Bite the resource which dwindles amid the moans and grasping hands is trust. The Bite is game about a lot of other things, but first and foremost it's a game about asking yourself one question: Can you trust someone enough that you cannot justify killing them, even when it’s the best thing to do?
In the middle of a zombie apocalypse, you're two people who have just gotten themselves to safety. You’re in a house, a studio apartment, a car. It’s the two of you in here, and for the length of your game the zombies will not break through that door. The biggest threat now is sitting across from you, wearing a dirty hoody and torn jeans. If they’ve been bitten, you’re dead...but there is a gun between you, which might solve everything.
Of course, you don’t know if they’ve been bitten. Or you know you’ve been bitten and you have to hide it. Or neither of you have been bitten and this is all a misunderstanding. This is where the decisions become apparent and the guilt sets in, so you do the only thing two people can do when they can’t trust each other: You make small talk.
You talk until you make a decision, or your “partner” makes one for you. Either you play your last card and decide to let the other live, or someone picks up the gun and decides otherwise. The decision is always justifiable: They could be bitten, and they’d kill you if you gave them the chance, and anyway, after all of that...in a world like this, to be shot in the head is small mercy.
But the decision will eat away at you. Were they really bitten or did you guess wrong? Who are you to decide who lives and who dies? Why was your last act before becoming a zombie to lie to, and therefor murder another person? Maybe there was another way?
Or they might be uninfected, and so might you, and the two of you might be able to steal a real moment of beauty in a world falling to pieces. In a game where trust is so absent, and so foolish, and so grossly punished, isn’t it worth it to just….try? Is it more important to preserve your life or to preserve humanity’s capacity for trust and teamwork?
I don’t have the answer to any of these ideas, and neither does The Bite. It offers only questions, and a remarkable, visceral way to ask them.
The Bite is available as a print & play from DrivethruRPG as Pay What You Wish. It cost me $5 AU to have a copy printed on 300gsm at Officeworks.