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Ender's Game | Study Guide

Orson Scott Card

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Ender's Game | Context


Origins of Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card's biggest influence on Ender's Game was American writer Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. The Foundation series was loosely related to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, an influential 18th-century history book. Card was inspired by the way the Foundation books explored psychology and sociology rather than focusing solely on technological advances. Card writes, "I was no scientist, and unlikely ever to be one," but he began drawing ideas from history. A book on the Civil War (1861–65) led him to consider how armies might respond differently in battle based on their leader. From a history of World War I (1914–18), Card learned how the first air pilots in battle learned to think in multiple dimensions (up and down, not just front and back). Imagining what battle training might be like in the future, Card envisioned the battleroom, a key location in Ender's Game.

When he began writing Ender's Game, Card focused on children because historical readings supported the idea that soldiers are often very young. From the Foundation series, Card took the idea that "the play of human history is always the same," even when circumstances vary throughout the centuries. In the introduction Card describes hearing from very disparate groups of people, from gifted children to soldiers stationed in battlefields, all of whom found Ender's Game meaningful.


In the novel's introduction, Card describes the most common criticism: children "don't talk like that ... don't think like that." Card disagrees, saying in his own childhood he never saw his emotions as "somehow less real than adult emotions." People also object to the book's depiction of children as violent and calculating. This echoes criticisms of other novels, such as British author William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) or English writer Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962), both of which show children or teenagers capable of horrific violence. Others claim these complaints reveal people's inaccurate beliefs about children.

The novel is also criticized for its seeming support of genocide. In battle Ender is celebrated as a hero when he destroys the bugger species. However, Ender, thinking he is in a simulated game, is unaware he is in actual battle. Card makes it clear that Ender would not have destroyed the planet had he realized the battle was real. Thus, Card is not necessarily celebrating genocide. Instead, throughout the book, adults are presented as the enemy more so than the buggers. The adults celebrate the genocide, but Ender, the character with whom readers most sympathize, does not.

Military Strategy

Ender's Game emphasizes military strategy, including maneuver warfare. Maneuver warfare was most recently used in the 2003 Iraq War—Operation Iraqi Freedom. The goal of maneuver warfare is to demoralize the opposing forces, making them unable to fight effectively. This goal is accomplished by taking dramatic actions to confuse the enemy, avoiding confrontations where the enemy is strong, and taking action against the enemy's weak spots. In the Iraq War, for example, the commander ordered troops to attack specific targets within the city of Baghdad, but he did not give explicit commands about how to attack. This meant different groups of soldiers attacked at slightly different times and used different tactics as appropriate to their targets in their parts of the city. The enemy could not put together a formally planned defense because different sections of the city experienced different attacks.

Ender embraces maneuver warfare. In Battle School students are assigned to "armies" to learn battlefield techniques. The armies use guns that "freeze" or immobilize students, similar to a high-tech version of freeze tag. Ender is assigned to Salamander Army, whose commander resents him and forbids him to participate. Observing a battle, Ender notes with approval how the other commander confuses and demoralizes Salamander. Many of Ender's strategies take the same approach, such as his technique of using pre-frozen soldiers to protect an unfrozen sharpshooter.

Technology in the 1970s, Today, and in Ender's Game

The original version of Ender's Game was published in 1977. At the time personal computers were just beginning to become available for use at home. The earliest predecessors of the Internet were not yet accessible to the general public. In the novel Card talks about how "the nets" influence public opinion and governmental policy. Card himself refuses to take credit for the idea of the nets because Internet-type communication was already being explored. He does, however, think his understanding of how the Internet might affect politics was an accurate and valuable prediction.

One of the most popular video games of 1977 was Pong, in which players used a cursor to move paddles back and forth to play virtual ping pong. Visually Pong consisted of two vertical lines for paddles and a small circle for the ball. In contrast, the "Giant's Drink" game in the novel is extremely vivid and realistic. Although it is meant to be a game the students play for fun, Ender becomes emotionally involved in the hyper-realistic gameplay, which draws on elements from his own life. In the novel the Battle School officials suggest the game is working on its own to create new sections for Ender, which implies a level of AI (artificial intelligence), which was not yet possible. The games and simulations of Ender's Game would have been considered cutting-edge. Increasingly, photo-realistic video game design and developments in virtual reality technology have suggested the visuals of a real-life Giant's Drink game might be achievable. However, the game creating its own levels has not yet been possible in gaming technology. While video games adjust difficulty levels or character appearances based on guidelines created by the game developers, there has been no game yet that can completely create a new level without any guidance from a human being.

The long-distance warfare of Ender's Game was entirely hypothetical when Card wrote it. In the 21st century, though, robotics and drones allow more fighting to be handled remotely, raising ethical questions about how much technology should permit human beings to distance themselves from their actions.

Of course, some of Card's technologies remain fictional. Humanity's control of gravity is limited in real life, but in the book humans have learned to manipulate gravity. Ender uses the "Little Doctor," a molecular detachment device (a weapon taken from the enemy buggers), which affects ships or planets on a molecular level and utterly destroys them. On a simpler level, video games have not attained the level of responsiveness featured in the Giant's Drink, when the game apparently creates its own new levels just for Ender.

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