Ender's Game. It's Just a Game, Isn't It?

Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game. New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1985.

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"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get." "All right. We're saving the world, after all. Take him. (1)"

So begins the novel Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender is a six-year-old genius who, after years of being monitord by the military, is recruited to join a group of elite children in training to protect the world against an alien invasion by the "buggers". At battle school Ender and his classmates are completely isolated from Earth (the school is a satellite) and must adjust to a schedule of classes, computer training, and the all-important battles made to simulate fighting buggers. The difference between Ender and the other children? As his name suggests, the military views Ender as the one who must end the human vs. bugger war. As a result, Ender is singled out, made to face obstacles other students would never be put up against, and pushed almost to his breaking point. He feels despair because he "...now knew what he hated so much. He had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices. Only the game was left to him" (151). Ender is promoted to an army while years younger than the rest of them, made a commander of a squad soon after, and, after defeating every unfairly stacked battle simulation, graduates to command school. Once at command school Ender is isolated more than ever as a part of the military's strict preparation. However, as the challenges he faces become more difficult, the question arises, has Ender been pushed too far?

Ender's Game may be a brutal, shockingly violent adventure story on the surface, however there is more to this book than the reader may originally find. Ultimately, Ender's Game is about fear, control, solitude, friendship, and, above all else, love. Ender has many challenges at battle school ranging from troubles fitting in amongst his friends to the intense war-like situations he must contend with in battle simulations, but his biggest challenge is dealing with his inner demons. His biggest, reoccurring challenge is overcoming his fear that "... he was a killer, only better at it than Peter ever was" (118). Ender fears becoming like Peter so much that thoughts of Peter consistently haunt him. Factually, Ender seems to have all the answers; strategically, he can defeat any opponent; however, emotionally, Ender has moments when all he can do is lie in bed and cry himself to sleep. In these moments, Card reveals the future savior of the Earth to be just as human as anyone else. All of his fears, doubts, and nostalgic memories make Ender a relatable character.

What's also great about Ender's Game is that it appeals to such a diverse group of students both inside and outside the science fiction genre. Ultimately it is a coming-of-age story about a boy who doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere. Ender faces bullies and ostracism, and must learn to adapt to a new environment - things many adolescents face at some point in their lives. Though Ender may be different than the students reading this book (unless they too happen to be six and a genius), he struggles with things many middle or high school students also struggle with. Ender wants to find someplace where he feels he "belongs", where he doesn't seem abnormal, and where he can have friends rather than enemies. What student (or person of any rage, really) wouldn't want that? In addition to the normal trials and tribulations of adolescence, Ender must also learn to succeed when the tables are stacked against him, make friends out of enemies, and live up to the high expectation of saving the world. Students may not be challenged with saving the world quite yet, but they do know what it's like to have people expect things out of them and the stresses that ensue. Bullies and challenges are things most readers will be able to relate to.

For older students, the world depicted in Ender's Game can lead to thought-provoking questions about the role of government and rules of warfare. In battle school students are pressed to the breaking point, especially Ender. Is this rough treatment of children justified by the fact that they are being treated this way to help protect the world? Ender wins the war by destroying the Bugger's entire planet. Is this morally acceptable considering the Buggers never attacked Earth? Would they have attacked Earth if given the chance? The world Ender lived in was one in which a single group controlled almost every facet of life. Parents were only allowed two children (Ender was called "third" as a derogatory term for being an additional child), religion was outlawed, and one common language was instituted for the entire world. What are the negative and positive aspects of such a uniformlly globalized world?

Ender also struggles with a sense of self. From the very beginning of the book it is clear that Ender fears being a "killer" like his brother Peter. However, the violence and killing Ender has tried so hard to resist is the same thing he is being taught and told to do. Throughout the book Ender fights this fear of becoming like Peter, a fear that at times cripples his ability to act. This struggle to find one's true self and not live in a sibling's shadow is something many kids struggle with.

Recommendations for Teachers
We believe teachers should recommend this book for middle to high school students as either an in-class assignment or for independent reading. Middle school students will be drawn in by the plot, and the text is accessible enough for them to understand it without help. High school studnets will likewise be drawn in by the plot, but can discuss the greater themes and messages of Ender's Game in relation to our current world. The plot is exciting enough to hold the attention of plot-driven readers who need lots of action, while the characters are dynamic and multi-faceted, motivated by different things with different goals in mind, for those readers who prefer to create a relationship with the characters and "get to know" them. Because Ender's Game is part of a series, students who find themselves engaged in Ender's Game may be motivated to do more reading outside the classroom to see what happens next. The book has also been translated into a comic book for students who need to see the pictures to be drawn into the story world (see link below).

Ideas for class activities:
1) Have students rewrite parts of the book from other character's perspectives (ex. Peter's thoughts when Ender is chosen).
2) Interview excercise with kids being different characters from the book - who is the most convincing Ender? Graff? Beans? Peter? Valentine? Bugger?
3) Power Struggle - Which character has the most power and in what context? You could take Ender, Graff, Bean, Bonzo, Peter, and Valentine (just to name a few) and have students get in to groups of 5. Each group goes up in front of the class and presents their hierarchy of power to the class and explains their reasoning. It would be interesting to see where students place each character. For instance, who has more power, Ender or Graff? Graff is seemingly controlling Ender but at the same time Graff's career lives and dies by Ender's decisions.
4) Create a game for Ender - Ender plays an incredibly weird, almost mind reading, adventure/fantasy game on his desk at the battle school. Throughout this game Ender encounters all sorts of strange scenarios (a giant, a castle, a rug made out of snakes, etc...) yet somehow, these scenarios create a sense of problems that are bothering Ender while also predicting his future. The student's job would be to create a storyboard of an imaginitive story that Ender might have played through on his desk. These scenarios could help describe a problem Ender may have had or they could predict a situation and outcome that he would soon deal with.
5) Journal Entry/Letter Home - Have students write a journal entry or letter as one of the characters in the book. What would Ender write in his journal after the first day at battle school? What would Bonzo write when Ender is first transferred to his team? What would Valentine write to Ender? What would Peter write after Ender is selected for battle school and he is not? Students can choose any character they wish so long as they try to put themselves in that character's shoes.
6) Create a Cover - The cover for Ender's Game is very dated and doesn't show much about the book. Ask students to design their own cover for the book.
7) Connect to Current Events - Use the idea of children used as soldiers in Ender's Game to lead a class discussion on real child soldiers in African civil wars. This may be an opportunity to interest students in doing more research or reading on the topic.

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card was born in Richland, Washington, in 1951. He is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender in Exile which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools. Ender's Shadow is unique in that it goes back to the story of Ender's Game but tells it all from the viewpoint of another character, Beans.
Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.
Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He recently began a longterm position as a professor of writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.
Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.
(Information and photo courtesy of Hatrack.com)

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

The movie trailer for, Ender's Game. This movie is based on the novel of the same name written by Orson Scott Card.

Additional Resources:
  • Official Orson Scott Card Page - Check out the official home page of Orson Scott Card.
  • Official Ender's Game Page - Check out the official webpage for the book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
  • Orson Scott Card Interview - An interview with Orson Scott Card on his unanticipated sequal to Ender's Game, Ender in Exile
  • Chapter 1 read aloud - Hear chapter 1 of Ender's Game read aloud.
  • Ender's Game Comic Book - Visit Marvel Comic's official website for the Ender's Game comic books
  • Orson Scott Card vs. J.K. Rowling - Read Orson Scott Card's column about J.K. Rowling. There are more similarities between Harry Potter and Ender's Game than you may think
  • Political Column - Orson Scott Card's weekly column on the world of politics. How do his political views show in Ender's Game?
  • Comic Book Sneak Peek - Watch a sneak peek of the Ender's Game comic book with Orson Scott Card.
  • "Congo Warlords In The Dock At Hague Court" - Read the Reuters article on warlords arrested for enlisting child soldiers
  • "The Long Road From Sudan to America" - Read an article from New York Times Magazine about African children fleeing enlistment as child soldiers in the Sudan seeking refuge in America
  • "Babes in Arms" - Read the New York Times book review of Ishmael Beah's memoir about being a child soldier in the civil war in Sierra Leone (in West Africa) A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. A helpful step toward interesting students in exploring the topic of child soldiers (and reading a great book in the process)
-- Matt
-- Steve
-- Nicole