But you can never kill them all. Because they're already dead. Because the entire population (give or take a margin of 1%) has fallen prey to the zombie plague. Because even dropping a nuclear bomb only takes out those in the radius of the actual blast; do you think zombies give a rat's ass about radiation poisoning? They're like cockroaches.
You cannot win against the zombie menace. In the end, the horde always triumphs. This is true of most zombie-related fiction. In fact, the zombie sub-genre is probably one of the most nihilistic on record; most zombie books, comics, films, and shows end up with most or all survivors turned into zombie chow.
You might be saying, "Yes, but that would make for a terrible game, a game in which nobody can ever win." (At least, you might be saying that if we didn't just shock you into a state of permanent aphasia.)
We'd say you have a good point except for one word:
That's right. Pinball. Pinball is a game you can never win. Like life, it has no end beyond the one where you finally lose your last ball and the game tells you how many points you've acquired. Pinball is the ultimate game representation of the zombie survival horror genre. It's about seeing how far you can get before the grim inevitability is realized.
Let's end on this: You're getting zombies wrong. You're getting them wrong because you're treating them like any other enemy - they might as well be reskinned to look like aliens, Deathclaws, Combine soldiers, or bloodthirsty Energizer bunnies. Zombies are so much more than a physical threat. They're life, subverted. They're the supernatural force that strips us down to our worst, most desperate instincts, and throws us against one another in an arena of fear and survival. All the things that terrify us about cancer and AIDS, about hurricanes and earthquakes, about life and death, those things are encapsulated in the horror of zombies. Horror isn't about loops of guts and viscera. It isn't about the moaning dead. That's just the mask it wears. The true face of horror is a commentary on our own hideous nature.
And so, game industry, yes, your zombie games are fun. But if you want to really get into what's awesome - and awful - about zombies, you'll need to move beyond a living dead version of Duck Hunt.
Stop selecting "d: Shoot zombies with guns."
ZAT Prep Course, Inc.
P.S. Okay, fine, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are still pretty good. Shut up.
Chuck Wendig is equal parts novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He currently lives in the wilds of Pennsyltucky with a wonderful wife and two very stupid dogs. His "vampire in zombieland" novel, Double Dead, releases in November, 2011. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. You can find him dispensing dubious writing advice at his blog, terribleminds.com.