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It wasn't Enders Game, but it was similar. A boy is living in a not quite dystopic city in the future, and begins to play something like an arcade game, that is about shooting aliens and other players in a ship. Eventually he becomes well known for being good at the game and joins a competition for it. Winners of the competition are conscripted into an army. The boy wins along with a female friend (I think?) After that I can't recall.

  • Welcome to the site. You have a good start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details, that would be great. Every little bit helps us. – amflare Mar 30 '18 at 17:26
  • This sounds like the premise of Photon: Thieves of Light by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, but I don't recall the female friend part. – Jeff Zeitlin Mar 30 '18 at 17:28
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    Maybe the novelization of The Last Starfighter, also see here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/41512/… - Although it was modern (well, 1985 modern) day not dystopian. – JohnP Mar 30 '18 at 17:30
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    How long ago did you read it? My first thought was the recent novel Armada. – drewbenn Mar 30 '18 at 18:05
  • I'm pretty sure I answered this one... He had a long lost sister who turned out to be on the other side? – FuzzyBoots Mar 31 '18 at 0:03
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Might be "The Last Starfighter". The link goes to the movie, but there was a novel by the same name made from the movie.

Alex Rogan is a teenager who lives in a trailer park with his mother and brother. He is the handy man of the trailer park - he helps the other folks keep their plumbing, and electricity, and air conditioners running. Since the trailer park is rather run down and is located in a desert, it could easily be taken for a dystopic future.

In his spare time he plays the video game "Starfighter." The game turns out to have been placed on Earth in order to help a bunch of aliens find pilots capable of flying their ships in order to beat off attacks by an intergalactic bad guy.

He ends up using the last remaining starfighter to defeat the alien armada.

His girlfriend does in fact join him on the alien planet, but only after he has defeated the bad guys.

  • Not it, sorry. I was more modern, definitely a more recent novel. The character lived in an apartment from what I remember. – Jorge Vega Mar 31 '18 at 4:40
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It would seem it was Armada, by Ernest Cline. Thanks, drewbenn.


Zack Lightman the school aged protagonist of Armada, is recruited into the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) after it is revelaed to the world that the FPS space fighter game (Armada) he's been playing is in fact real, and the mission runs he completes are remote control attacks on an alien base on Europa.

The best players of the game based on the in game scoreboard/league system are gathered together, where he meets a girl(Debbie I think), who happens to be one of the top players of the Ground combat portion of the game. Romance ensues.

The setting is not quite dystopian, but the protagonist is from a modest to low income, single parent background and his life so far could be summed up as not the greatest.

This matches all of the points raised in the original question.

  • Can you elaborate on why this is the right answer? And you can accept your own answer, albeit 48 hours after asking. – FuzzyBoots Mar 31 '18 at 12:30

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