Ender’s Game

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Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love, Empathy, and Destruction Theme Icon
Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality Theme Icon
Morality and Survival Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Control, Manipulation, and Authority Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Ender’s Game, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality Theme Icon

Ever since Orson Scott Card published Ender’s Game in the 1980s, he’s been praised for his book’s descriptions of “futuristic” technology. Critics point to Card’s interest in games, computers, and virtual reality and how, in the last thirty years, these things have all become increasingly important parts of life. Children develop a taste for combat by playing violent video games, journalists express their political views to millions over the Internet, and even in the military, soldiers learn strategy by playing virtual reality games. Card essentially predicted the future.

One of the novel’s most important points about games, computers, and virtual reality is that they distance people from the “truth,” and also from each other. As preteens, Valentine and Peter Wiggin conceal their identities using the Internet (Card, writing before the Internet was at all common, calls this the “Net”), and end up using their rhetoric to control global politics. More overtly, the Battle School trains its young students by giving them combat games to play. By relying so extensively on games, the Battle School’s teachers trick students into forgetting the ugly truth: by playing fun games, these children are preparing for the murder of the Buggers. Card notes that every country on the planet encourages its children to play war games—this gives the people of Earth an appetite for violence, while also distancing them from their natural feelings of compassion and sympathy.

Yet the structure of the Battle School reveals something else about games and virtual reality: if people play games for long enough, then the games become reality. The students at Battle School take their combat games in the battleroom very seriously. One of these students, Bonzo Madrid, treats the game so seriously that he’s willing to commit murder when he loses to Ender. Ender is unique in Battle School because he can take a game seriously while also recognizing that it’s “just” a game: in other words, he cares enough to win, but not so much that he thinks of the rules of the game as absolute. Although he’s a brilliant commander, his most impressive victories come when he breaks or bends the rules of the battleroom—for example, when he performs the customary “victory ritual” before he’s actually won—technically winning the game for his army.

Even Ender can’t escape the truth, however: the game is reality, whether he likes it or not. At the end of the book, this is literally true in the sense that Ender discovers that he’s been fighting a real war at Command School—what he thought were computer simulations turn out to be real ships with living beings flying them. The convergence of game and reality is also true in a symbolic sense—Ender has been playing games for the better part of his life, and will be remembered forever because of the ingenious “games” he won. The result is that Ender’s old strategies of “bending” the rules don’t work anymore. When he sends a deadly missile to blow up the Bugger home planet, Ender thinks he’s tricking a computer simulation—it’s only later that he realizes that he’s wiped out an entire species, just as his teachers were hoping he’d do. The reality of this “game” then comes back to haunt Ender for the rest of his life.

For most of Ender’s life, games have distanced him from the people around him: his family, his friends and opponents in Battle School, and even the Buggers. Yet in the final chapter of Ender’s Game, Card makes a final point about games and virtual reality—they can bring people together instead of distancing them from each other. Ender discovers that the virtual reality game he’d played at Battle School, the “Giant game,” actually provided a conduit for him to communicate with the Buggers, unbeknownst to the International Fleet. He realizes that the Buggers have used games and virtual reality to understand his innermost feelings, and as a result, they’ve decided that he can be trusted to repopulate the Bugger species by finding a new home for the Bugger queen. The final irony of Ender’s Game is that the “game” mentioned in the title doesn’t refer to the violent, destructive war games that Ender played in school—games that have a clear winner and loser. The game Ender has been playing with the Bugger queen has no winner or loser—instead, Ender uses games and play to understand his sworn enemy, love her, and help her.

Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality appears in each chapter of Ender’s Game. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality Quotes in Ender’s Game

Below you will find the important quotes in Ender’s Game related to the theme of Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Dad pointed out that the war wouldn’t go away just because you hid Bugger masks and wouldn’t let your kids play with make-believe laser guns. Better to play the war games, and have a better chance of surviving when the Buggers came again.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin , Peter Wiggin , Mr. Wiggin / Father
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Card explains why games have become so important to the world in his vision of the future. For centuries, people have learned about fighting, war, and strategy by playing games—chess, for example, has trained generals for thousands of years. In the future, Card explains, games continue to train people to fight from an early age. Parents encourage their children to play games in which they fight "Buggers," the alien race that is (supposedly) the archenemy of humanity. By playing games of this kind, children like Ender inadvertently train themselves for a lifetime of war with the Buggers.

One of the reasons that games are so important for the generals and warriors of the future is that they're not real. As the quotation suggests, the death and destruction is "make believe." (The real violence comes later.) By playing games that use fake violence, children gradually become desensitized to the idea of violence itself, so that when it's time for them to fight a real Bugger, they won't feel pangs of guilt or hesitation about killing it. At the end of the novel, it'll become clear how games have taught Ender to suppress his natural feelings of sympathy and compassion.


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Chapter 6 Quotes

He hadn’t meant to kill the Giant. This was supposed to be a game. Not a choice between his own grisly death and an even worse murder. I’m a murderer, even when I play. Peter would be proud of me.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Peter Wiggin
Related Symbols: The Giant
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Ender plays a game called the Giant's Drink. In the game, Ender faces off against a computer-generated giant who forces him to choose between two drinks, one of which is poisoned. Ender finally wins the game by simply attacking the giant, killing him brutally. Ender feels a sudden rush of guilt after murdering the giant. He doesn't want to believe that he's a violent, brutal person—he's always tried to distance himself from Peter, his older brother (a cruel bully, as we've already seen).

The scene also provides some important foreshadowing for the climactic events of the novel. Ender finds the confidence and creativity to fight the giant so brutally because he thinks that this is just a game—the artificiality of the Giant's Drink allows him to be crueler and more destructive than he would be in the real world. It's also crucial to notice that Ender, in spite of his compassion and guilt, doesn't feel guilty for his actions until after he's finished. This is what makes Ender such a great soldier: he's smart and empathetic enough to understand his opponents, but he can also suppress his sense of compassion until after his opponents are dead.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“They need us, that’s why.” Bean sat down on the floor and stared at Ender’s feet. “Because they need somebody to beat the Buggers. That’s the only thing they care about.”
“It’s important that you know that, Bean. Because most boys in this school think the game is important for itself—but it isn’t. It’s only important because it helps them find kids who might grow up to be real commanders, in the real war. But as for the game, screw that.”

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Bean (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Battleroom
Page Number: 196-197
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Ender confides in his friend Bean—a young, ambitious soldier in the Dragon Army, whom Ender had initially mocked for his size. Ender tells Bean what he's learned about Battle School so far: the game, he believes, is fake, while war is real. Ender claims that most students in school are so competitive that they never fully grasp that the game is "just a game"—there are always students like Bonzo who are so competitive that they're willing to kill an opponent because of a win or loss in the Battle Room.

Ender's speech is ironic, as we'll soon find out, since in the end, there is no difference between the game and the war with the Buggers. Ender's mistake—his tragic flaw, you could say—is that he thinks he can preserve some of his humanity and compassion during Battle School; i.e., he can be a brutal commander during a game, and a normal human being for the rest of the day. Graff, knowing full-well that Ender thinks the Battle Room is just a game, will manipulate Ender into heartlessly annihilating the Buggers by lying to him about what is and isn't real.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Only then did it occur to William Bee that not only had Dragon Army ended the game, it was possible that, under the rules, they had won it. After all, no matter what happened, you were not certified as the winner unless you had enough unfrozen soldiers to touch the corners of the gate and pass someone through into the enemy’s corridor.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin , William Bee
Related Symbols: The Battleroom
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene—one of the few moments from the novel in which the perspective shifts away from Ender Wiggin—Card describes one of Ender's most ingenious victories in the Battle Room. A technicality states that an army can only win by launching five soldiers through the opponent team's side. Usually, armies interpret this rule to mean that after the battle, five soldiers must cross to the other side. Ender, knowing he's badly outnumbered and has no chance of winning, simply launches his soldiers before the game has begun.

The shift in perspective that takes place during this scene helps convey the ingenuity of Ender's plan. For once, we're not privy to Ender's decision-making process, and so Ender's final decision becomes all the more unexpected and dazzling. The scene is also a good example of how Ender "cuts the Gordian knot" (a legendary knot that was impossible to untie, but which Alexander the Great supposedly cut open with his sword)—i.e., rethinks the rules of the game in a creative way—when he's under pressure. Arguably his greatest talent as a leader is that he can twist the rules bit by bit. Graff knows about Ender's talent, and uses it to trick him into killing the Buggers.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Forget it, Mazer. I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules, if you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly—I’ll beat you unfairly first.
In that final battle in Battle School, he had won by ignoring the enemy, ignoring his own losses; he had moved against the enemy’s gate.
And the enemy’s gate was down.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Mazer Rakham
Related Symbols: The Battleroom
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

In the novel's climactic scene, Ender faces an opponent (which he believes to be a computer simulation) more dangerous than any he's ever seen. Badly outnumbered, Ender isn't sure how to react. After a moment's thought, he decides to "cut the Gordian knot" once again. Ender decides to "win" the game by breaking the rules; sacrificing huge chunks of his own army in order to exterminate the Buggers at their source. Ender has the creativity to break the rules because he remembers the un-winnable battles he won in the Battle Room by breaking similar sets of rules.

The tragedy of Ender's decision is that he's willing to exterminate his opponents because he's convinced it's "just a game." In reality, though, the game is real. Thanks to Graffs' deceptions, Ender has been commanding real troops against a real enemy, and by winning the battle, he's won the Bugger War forever.

Ender's "victory" in this scene proves how well his education at Battle School has taught him to think of violence as a mere simulation. Although he's a uniquely compassionate, loving boy, he never has any qualms about sending troops to their deaths or murdering millions of Bugger opponents—but this is only possible because he's convinced that the game and the real world are separate, and that he's participating in the former.

In a broader sense, though, Ender's defeat of the Buggers illustrates how completely the IF commanders control him. After decades of running tests on their prized pupil, Graff and his colleagues know exactly how Ender's mind works. They know when he'll keep pushing, and when he'll crack under pressure. Ironically, "cracking under pressure" is exactly what Graff wants Ender to do in this scene:  Ender inadvertently exterminates the Buggers because he's sick of battle simulations, and wants a break.

Graff lies to Ender about the reality of the game for two reasons, one kind, one selfish. Graff wants to protect Ender from the guilt of consciously choosing to murder the Buggers—a decision that no single human being could possibly make. At the same time, Graff lies to Ender because he wants to make sure that Ender completes his assignment instead of compassionately refusing to commit mass murder. It's cowardly of Graff to place the burden of genocide on Ender's shoulders, and—as we'll soon see—the fact that Ender didn't know the game was real doesn't make him feel any less responsible.