A while I go, I heard in the news that scientists had discovered bacteria that eat PET plastic. For me, that was breaking news. I have been briefly working for ..well…it was something one could call a scrapyard in English, but it had its share of garbage. My job was an office job, and sometimes I wrote declarations for what the yard wanted to get rid off. This way, I learned a bit about different kind of waste what stuff will simply decompose. And what little I learned told me… well, plastic does not. Or, did not.
My joy about the possible depletion of old garbage dumps aside (and I tell you, we already have “gifted” the earth LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of those), the second part of the news was the one that made the RPGamer in me smile: since the original bacteria isn´t really… ravenous, the scientist already have plans to use the wonders of bio-engineering to transfer this plastic-eating abilities into some bacteria who are a bit more voracious. YES, I know what you people think now, and you are right: it IS cheesy and it IS stereotype to think this way but do you know what it is as well? FUN! Plastic eating, bio-engineered bacteria getting out of control are FUN. At least, in an RPG.
Now, lets take this information, plant it into our gamer-minds and fast forward into a dark future (possibly cyberpunk) or post-apocalypse or some itty-gritty (grimdark?) scifi game. And since it is ME here, I will stay with (my) waste dumps. The easy-cheesy way here would be to take this inspiration and turn it into some plastic eating ooze monster. But lets be honest, how often do we already have those ooze-blobb-things in games like that? As often as giant insects, we all know that. No, I am not thinking about a monster here. I am thinking about an environmental hazard.
A plastic eating bacteria breading in a waste dump could turn said dump into something that comes close to a quagmire as plastic is slowly liquiefied and later turned into gas through digestion. And talking about gas, old waste dumps already develop gas pockets today: methane and carbon dioxide. This stinks AND is hazardous. Makes for a nasty environment, doesn´t it? Now, add the bacteria itself. Characters that need to pass such an area might contaminate themselves and their gear with said bacteria. It might take days till there is an effect, but said effect might be that all of their gear that has plastic parts will be ruined. In a cyberpunk or dark future game, this is just some added cost to the mission (unless it was a long term mission where one has problems getting new gear). In a post-a game, this might be equal to losing ancient relics that will be hard to replace.
But how to include such places into a game? In a cyberpunk RPG, a facility the characters want to infiltrate could be next to such a dump. Getting over the dump could be an easy way in, as the defense is a lot weaker there. After all, who would be stupid enough to cross a methan-carbon-dioxide quagmire made by plastic-eating bacteria?
In a dark future, a whole place could have become like that. Think about the waste dumps that you can find in newly industrialized countries and the slums close to them. The characters might want to meet somebody there, or need to investigate there or to hide there or they are hunting somebody that is hiding there. Hack, perhaps there are other (mutated) critters there the characters are to hunt and the environmental hazard only adds to the problem.
In a post-a game, whole cities will be the equivalent of waste dumps and the bacteria will thereby have a wider field to spread in. Loot zones become danger zones through them.
Even regular scifi games could feature worlds that are partly or completely like a post-a world… or complete “waste moons” that are nothing but depots of junk that is to be recycled.
I hope I inspired you! Have fun gaming!