This question is regarding the Ender's Game movie.

After Ender returns to Earth and Valentine encourages him to continue, he travels to the former Formic colony on the planet Shakespeare, where he continues his training with ever more complicated and realistic battle scenarios. All of this training is done in a holographic simulation room.

After his final test, it's revealed that...

...the final simulation actually was real, and that he had just destroyed the Formic homeworld

But what about the previous tests? Was this happening all along, or was the final test unique in this regard?

While I was watching the movie, I was thinking all the time that the simulations were very detailed, considering how little they said they knew about the Formics.

  • 1
    I'm not sure if this is a spoiler (because the books are from the 80s), but I treated it as such anyway. Oct 21, 2014 at 13:38
  • 20
    "No, Ender. I am your father", said Mazer.
    – Valorum
    Oct 21, 2014 at 15:41
  • 2
    Probably noone within five seats of me enjoyed that movie. A wonder I didn't get thrown out! But really: Worst... Adaption... EVER! - And yes, I've seen H2G2 and as far as I recall several LOTR-abominations... Oct 23, 2014 at 9:45
  • I don't know, I liked it. But then, I've never read the books. Oct 23, 2014 at 13:03
  • 2
    @AlexanderKosubek - was the memory of Starship Troopers completely suppressed in your brain? :) Mar 5, 2015 at 17:47

4 Answers 4


Novel Series

The source novel is pretty clear on the sequence of events.

  • When Ender arrives on Eros, he's placed into a flight simulator and learns how to control a single fighter until he reaches a point where he's effectively mastered the simulation. This takes approximately one month.

"Is that all the simulator does?" [said Ender]
"Is what all?"
"The way it plays now. It's easy, and it hasn't got any harder for a while."

  • He is then reunited with his toon leaders from Battle School and learns how to control a fleet of ships as Fleet Commander. We learn that they've been training on their own for around three months. He spends a further three weeks training with his troops until he (and they) reach a point where they've effectively mastered the simulation.

The trust was complete, the working of the fleet quick and responsive..."You match them [the buggers], Ender. You're as fast as they are"

  • Ender is then told (by Mazer) that they will be entering a new phase of training where Mazer will personally be in charge of programming the Bugger fleet.
    This is a lie. At this point, he assumes control of the real invasion fleet.

"So, Ender, we will now begin your education. We have programmed the computer to simulate the kinds of situations we might expect in encounters with the enemy. We are using the movement patterns we saw in the Second Invasion. But instead of mindlessly following these same patterns, I will be controlling the enemy simulation. At first you will see easy situations that you are expected to win handily. Learn from them, because I will always be there, one step ahead of you, programming more difficult and advanced patterns into the computer so that your next battle is more difficult,

At the end of the book, the switch is made explicitly clear to him by Mazer:

"Ender, you never played me. You never played a game since I became your enemy." Ender didn't get the joke. He had played a great many games, at a terrible cost to himself. He began to get angry. Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender, for the past few months you have been the battle commander of our fleets. This was the Third Invasion. There were no games, the battles were real, and the only enemy you fought was the buggers. You won every battle, and today you finally fought them at their home world, where the queen was, all the queens from all their colonies, they all were there and you destroyed them


The sequence of events in the film is slightly different. The simulated battles (and his conversation with Mazer) aren't shown. As soon as Ender arrives, he's given immediate command of the fleet.

There is a sequence a few minutes into his "training" where he is given a dressing-down by Mazer and Graff for allowing too many losses in an engagement.

Mazer : "you can't absorb these kinds of losses. War isn't a game where you get to reboot and start over".

The obvious implication is that by this point, he's fighting with real ships and Mazer is upset about the implication of Ender treating the simulation too casually, failing to preserve his (real flesh and blood) troop's lives.

  • I would argue that in the film he was not in command until the very last battle. At the scene you mention Mazer also makes the comment that he could have "...annihilated Petra's little doctor..." To me that implies they used the little doctor and were he in full command of the fleet the Formics would have seen the weapon prior to the final battle. In the film I believe they went from simulations, to Mazer determining the enemy actions, to the final battle being the one real attack. Also, had the attacks all been real the Formics would also not have waited for Ender to shoot first... IMO
    – Odin1806
    Apr 5, 2019 at 19:49
  • @Odin1806 - The Little Doctor was used extensively in the war. It caused a chain reaction in matter that would spread to other (nearby) matter. Observation of its existence and capacity was the reason why the Buggers were so intensely keen to ensure that it wasn't able to be used in or near their homeworld.
    – Valorum
    Apr 5, 2019 at 20:45
  • "War isn't a game where you get to reboot and start over" - Though of course the invasion sequence was exactly like that, given that each force was completely separate and years or more travel time apart. Losing a battle would have been bad, winning with enormous losses each time...
    – Jontia
    Apr 5, 2019 at 21:27
  • @Jontia - Actually, the most modern (and fastest) fleets leapfrogged the oldest (and slowest) fleets so that they could achieve near-perfect attack synergy, with forces of differing speeds arriving at the same time. Theoretically, the newer fleets could reach the older fleets in a fraction of the time if they needed backup
    – Valorum
    Apr 5, 2019 at 21:31
  • Which book or version are those details in? I don't remember reading anything that suggested that, and if that was the case why would the final exam have settled for using only a small force of the oldest ships (book-verse at least). Obviously Ender manages to win, but the whole thing is set up as if the entire plan has been blow at the last hurdle by misjudging the force requirements. If back up can get there, why not send it?
    – Jontia
    Apr 5, 2019 at 21:36

After being sent to Eros, after meeting Mazer Rackham, after being reunited in training with his classmates, the first actual battle of the war is clearly set apart. In a "simulation", the buggers are using naive tactics (fake command ship surrounded by a sphere of protectors), and Ender uses their bunching for "defense" in order to take out a large number in a chain reaction with Dr. Device.

...The battle was over. It had been easier than most of their recent exercises.

Mazer shrugged when Ender told him so. "This is a simulation of a real invasion. There had to be one battle in which they didn't know what we could do. Now your work begins. Try not to be too arrogant about the victory. I'll give you real challenges soon enough."

This was, indeed, the one battle where the buggers didn't know what Dr. Device could do, because it was the first battle of the real war. When Mazer said he'd "give you real challenges soon enough," he was merely predicting that the buggers would learn and adapt moving forward - while maintaining the fiction that this was "simulation."

"Now your work begins", indeed.

(It's pages 195-196 in the version searchable at books.google.com - search inside for "shadowed alai" (with double quotes))

  • I don't think it was even a fake command ship in the middle, but the real one - Ender merely assumed it was fake because you'd have to be incredibly naive to make your command ship obvious and just assume it wouldn't be attacked... Oct 22, 2014 at 17:56
  • Huh? The buggers also had the molecular disruptor. In the book it was the primary weapon of both sides. And the command ship surrounded by protectors made sense in how they thought--in their realm queens weren't attacked, they could leave when they saw they had lost the battle. All that died are workers and they don't care about them. Oct 22, 2014 at 22:03
  • 1
    @LorenPechtel, page 196: "In this simulation, they obviously don't know what our weapons can do. It'll only work once, but let's make it spectacular." And further down the page, "...[the enemy] never again grouped its forces closely enough to allow a chain reaction." As for the other, I was remembering a quote to the effect that the obvious queen ship was a decoy, but I can't find that one.
    – gowenfawr
    Oct 23, 2014 at 0:35
  • @LorenPechtel This is one point that's very unclear in the series. First, it seems that both sides use MDs. Then, we learn that we developed MD by reverse engineering the bugger spaceships' engines - Ender even wonders why the Queens never used the weapon against them, it was such an obvious adaptation. Then we learn that the technology was independently developed by a human corporation as a mining tool ("gravlaser"), and happened to be undergoing testing during the time of the first invasion, used with great effect against the otherwise nearly invincible formic ships.
    – Luaan
    Nov 5, 2015 at 9:58

The book provides more detail, and it is clear that the real battles started once he moved to the Eros base.

This was hinted at during the simulations in the book, as the ships Ender's Jeesh commanded were described as using progressively older technology, because the ships aimed for the Bugger's home world had further to go, and were therefore the first launched.

The book explicitly states that the real battles had started long before the final assault on the homeworld.

From the wiki (since I don't have my copy of the book handy):

However, when the simulation ends, Ender discovers that the "audience" watching his "final exam" is now in jubilation and delight. Rackham and Graff tell Ender that he has not been playing a game, and had never played against Rackham, but instead has been commanding real ships across interstellar distances; this task was made possible via the ansible, a form of instantaneous communication making use of Philotic Energy. This technology was discovered following the Second Bugger War, as the method of telepathic communication the Buggers used was reverse engineered. He has just commanded the fleet attacking the Buggers' home planet, and destroyed the entire race once and for all.


Pretty much from the time he gets to the other planet (or asteroid in the book) meet mazar rackham, and starts the simulations with his "crew" they are all live battles that he controls via ansible (instantaneous communication device). In the book, there were a few scenes were his fleet is practically ruined after a fight because he makes mistakes where whole squadrons die. Rackham is mad at him for this and Ender is like 'whatever. it's just a simulation.' At the end, when Ender realizes it is all real, it is an almost crippling blow to his mind.

The movie doesn't describe it well, but that weapon they use (the "Little Doctor") is on all of the ships, not just one. The final fleet he controlled is actually a very old fleet of ships that was sent pretty much right after the last war and just then reaches its destination. The ships he uses at the beginning of the simulations are newer ships that ware better equipped, faster and fighting outlining colonies of the buggers.

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