Ender's Game in Real Time

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Orson Scott Card’s prescient futuristic novel, Ender’s Game, tells the story of an extremely intellectually gifted young boy, Ender Wiggin, who at the age of six is enrolled in Command School, a military academy of the best and brightest youth of Earth. He becomes an unwitting weapon in mankind’s war against the Formics, an alien race commonly referred as the "Buggers."

Ender is both ostracized by his peers and admired as a brilliant strategist, a situation fostered by his teachers to develop his creativity and his leadership abilities. His war training becomes all-inclusive — Daily he must defend himself from jealous, bullying classmates and outwit manipulative teachers. Dink, one of his few friends tells him; "It’s the teachers, they’re the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing." (p. 108)

Ender is constantly engaged in an ongoing series of war games to exploit his intelligence towards military tactics. Each one becomes more challenging than the next, pushing the young Ender to his limits.

At one point, Ender questions the reason of the conflict with Colonel Graff:

“So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other.”

“If the other fellow can’t tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn’t trying to kill you.”

“What if we just left them alone?”

“Ender, we didn’t go to them first, they came to us. If they were going to leave us alone, they could have done it a hundred years ago, before the First Invasion.”

“Maybe they didn’t know we were intelligent life. Maybe — ” (p.178)

Colonel Graff convinces Ender that there can be no negotiating with the inscrutable Buggers, that the war is a Darwinian battle for survival of one competing species against another.

In a final test, he is given a computer simulation to fight through the Bugger’s defenses and destroy their home world planet with a devastating bomb. Against tremendous odds, he succeeds — Only to discover afterwards from his adult mentors that it was not a simulation.

At age 12, Ender discovers he has single-handedly committed genocide of an entire planet.

"Real. Not a game. Ender’s mind was too tired to cope with it all. They weren’t just points of light in the air, they were real ships that he had fought with and real ships he had destroyed. And a real world that he had blasted into oblivion. He walked through the crowd, dodging their congratulations, ignoring their hands, their words, their rejoicing.."

"….. I killed them all, didn’t I? Ender asked.

"All who?" asked Graff. "The buggers? That was the idea."

Mazer leaned in close. "That’s what the war was for."

"All their Queens. So I killed all their children, all of everything."

"They decided that when they attacked us. It wasn’t your fault. It’s had to happen."

Ender grabbed Mazer’s uniform and hung unto it, pulling him down so they were face to face. "I didn’t want to kill them all. I didn’t want to kill anybody! I’m not a killer!…You but you made me do it, you tricked me into it!" He was crying. He was out of control.

"Of course we tricked you. That’s the whole point," said Graff. (p.208)

Predator drones are a progressive example of current military technology blurring the distinction between real and the digitally contrived. These technological terrors desensitize the inherent human aversion to violence by reverting harsh reality into an entertaining simulation. Such technology encourages a delusional mindset that killing in war can be sanitized, without the unpleasant experience of suffering the emotions of remorse or revulsion. Someone once said, "The first casualty of war is truth." The Government knows this, and seeks to hide this unpleasant truth from public. Examples include the previously suppressed 2007 Apache attack video of the killing of two Reuter journalists, the Pentagon’s censorship of pictures of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, and Defense secretary Robert Gates criticism of the published photo of the Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard dying in combat. "Why your organization would purposely defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me." demands Mr. Gates of the AP Press. Perhaps if Mr. Gates and the rest of the Government had read Joseph’s Heller’s novel, Catch 22, he would understand war’s terrible secret, as Heller’s protagonist Captain Yossarian grimly discovers:

Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chunk of flak more than three inches big had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole in his ribs it made as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was God’s plenty, all right, he thought bitterly as he stared — liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch. Yossarian hated stewed tomatoes and turned away dizzily and began to vomit, clutching his burning throat. The tail gunner woke up while Yossarian was vomiting, saw him, and fainted again.

Yossarian was limp with exhaustion, pain and despair when he finished. He turned back weakly to Snowden, whose breath had grown softer and more rapid, and whose face had grown paler. He wondered how in the world to begin to save him.

“I’m cold.” Snowden whimpered, “I’m cold.”

“There, there. Yossarian mumbled mechanically in a voice too low to be heard. “There, there.”

Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollable. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.

(Catch 22, Joseph Heller, chapter 41)

It is not my intent to write a screed on the moral evils of video games, or advocate we devolve into to Luddites. I only desire for the clueless to experience a second-hand Yossarian-epiphany by reading history and literature, like the books referenced here. To disabuse the notion that State-sponsored violence is necessary to safeguard ideals such as country and honor. To rediscover the lost truth that war is truly terrible, lest we, as Robert E. Lee warned, "should grow too fond of it."

Ron Shirtz [send him mail] is a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern (Not “Upstate”) New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.

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