The usual line of thinking about "Ender's Game" and the deception of "this is training on simulators" that gave name to the book title is that it was necessary, because the kids could not have handled the knowledge if they knew that the Third Invasion battles were real and not just simulator tests (as evidenced by the answers to this question). That Ender could not have been as able to either send his soldiers to their deaths, OR to destroy the Hive Queens in the last battle, if he knew if it was for real.

However, Ender generally seems incredibly mature for his age, and basically adult like in his thinking. So, it seems to me that if he knew that this was for real, he would still be able to perform his duties.

Do the books somehow address this? I'd like book evidence, not opinions.

  • 10
    Given Ender's reaction to finding out that he had just been responsible for the death of an entire species... Yes. – phantom42 Mar 21 '15 at 23:11
  • @phantom42 - actually... no. See my answer. Ender very explicitly indicated he'd have done the same had he known. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 21 '15 at 23:12
  • 4
    @DVK - In hindsight, he certainly claims that. – Valorum Mar 21 '15 at 23:15
  • @Richard - as I said in my answer, the ONLY possible in-universe answer is "in hindsight". But Ender generally does NOT suffer from self delusions or lack of knowledge of himself. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 21 '15 at 23:25
  • 1
    I always thought the "game" in Ender's Game referred to the tablet game through-which the hives influenced Ender and ultimately, through it and their own destruction, allowed Ender to understand them and collect their egg in the real twist, rather than the false twist that the simulations were real. – DampeS8N Mar 22 '15 at 0:12

To quote a recent Freakonomics podcast, this is actually a very interesting question.

The answer is actually different for the two facets of the "deception" that you mention:

  • "able to either send his soldiers to their deaths"

    There is no conclusive evidence on this one.

    • Of course, that was the assumption under which Mazer and Graff operated. But it was just that - an assumption. They had no proof.

    • On one hand, it is implied in "Ender's Shadow" that there definitely was a risk associated with Ender knowing there were lives of soldiers being lost, but it's possible that the danger wasn't so much in Ender knowing that people were dying for real, but that the stress of Mazer knowing (and taking it out on him) was detrimental to Ender.

    • on the other hand, Ender fairly calmly accepted the need to send soldiers to death in battle as a consequence of command (as stated in "Ender in Exile"), the chances are that he would have been able to handle the knowledge (even sub-consciously, as he handled subconsciously knowing that Bonzo Madrid was dead). Here's him talking to Mazer Rackham about Bonzo Madrid:

      Take this vid and introduce it into evidence. Or if, by some remote chance, nobody's recording our conversation, then testify on his behalf. Let them know—the court martial—let them know that Graff acted properly. I was angry at him for doing it that way, and I suppose I still am. But if I were in his place, I would have done the same. It was part of winning the war. People die in war. You send your soldiers into combat and you know some of them won't come back.

    • A somewhat less conclusive circumstantial evidence is Bean.

      In "Ender's Shadow", we find that he figured out it was "for all the marbles" pretty much before the whole charade started - but managed to carry on brilliantly. He himself assumed that was because he wasn't human (and thus agreed with Graff that Ender couldn't be made aware) - yet, we know that Beans assumption about himself was false, as was fully evidenced in his reciting David's prayer to the pilots in the last battle.

  • "to destroy the Hive Queens in the last battle"

    Objectively, it's impossible to answer with full certainty (in-universe) since, as Graff always points out, this is a "what-if" hindsight scenario that never got to play out. Maybe in reality, Ender could have done it with knowledge that it was "for real", and maybe he wouldn't have.

    After that, it was just a second-guessing game. I said I did what I believed was necessary for the preservation of the human race, and it worked; we got the judges to agree that the prosecution had to prove beyond doubt that Ender would have won the war without the training we gave him.

    But, Ender's own opinion, post-factum, is that he could have done it even if he knew it was not a simulation.

    In "Ender in Exile", he states so in his internal monologue:

    But the hive queens did not attempt to communicate. Nor did they use the obvious strategy of dispersal to save themselves. They had sat there, waiting for Ender to come. And then Ender had won, the only way he could: with devastating force.
    It was how Ender always fought. To make sure that there was no further fighting. To use this victory to ensure that there was no more danger.
    Even if I had known the war was real, I would have tried to do exactly what I did

    Now, this is of course 20/20 hindsight. BUT, it's generally shown in canon that Ender is quite self-aware and rarely misleads himself about his abilities and psyche. So I think we can trust his self-assessment more than Graff's before-it-went-down assumptions.

    UPDATE: He also confirms this in Speaker for the Dead:

    “I thought I was playing games. I didn’t know it was the real thing. But that’s no excuse, Olhado. If I had known the battle was real, I would have done the same thing. We thought they wanted to kill us. We were wrong, but we had no way to know that.”

Please note that the assertion that Ender couldn't have been told because he had a breakdown in the moments right after he found out the truth is - IMHO - totally false.

  1. The breakdown wasn't due to finding out the truth. It was a combination of major fatigue (which he suffered regardless of knowing the truth), AND the Queens hurting him when trying to establish communications with him (as we find out in Mind sequels), AND the sheer shock of finding out.

  2. We also see that his breakdown was VERY brief (and far from permanent) both from him, AND from Valentine's assessment of him after she got to Eros. So it likely was more due to the shock effect, and thus would not have happened if he had been told well before the battles happened.


Yes, it was necessary (at least in the opinion of the brass-hats).

Ender is simply too empathetic for his own good. If he knew that he was sending real men and women to their deaths, he'd have frozen under the pressure or simply refused

"I can't win battles if I'm so terrified of losing a ship that I never take any risks." Mazer smiled. "Excellent, Ender. You're beginning to learn. But in a real battle, you would have superior officers and, worst of all, civilians shouting those things at you. Now, if the enemy had been at all bright, they would have caught you here, and taken Tom's squadron."

And if he'd known that he was fighting a real enemy, he wouldn't have made the decision to use the Little Dr on the Bugger's homeworld.

"You made the hard choice, boy. All or nothing. End them or end us. But heaven knows there was no other way you could have done it. Congratulations. You beat them, and it's all over." All over. Beat them. Ender didn't understand. "I beat you." Mazer laughed, a loud laugh that filled the room. "Ender, you never played me. You never played a game since I became your enemy."

Graff explictly spells out the need for the ruse;

"It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it. It's the bind we were in. We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn't do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough." "And it had to be a child, Ender," said Mazer. "You were faster than me. Better than me. I was too old and cautious. Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn't know. We made sure you didn't know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It's what you were born for." "We had pilots with our ships, didn't we." "Yes." "I was ordering pilots to go in and die and I didn't even know it." "They knew it, Ender, and they went anyway. They knew what it was for." "You never asked me! You never told me the truth about anything!" "You had to be a weapon, Ender. Like a gun, like the Little Doctor, functioning perfectly but not knowing what you were aimed at. We aimed you. We're responsible. If there was something wrong, we did it."

  • Sorry, -1. First, this is contradicted by canon (see my answer). Second, as we know from other cases, Graff very easily can both lie (about many things) AND be mistaken (e.g. about Bean). You can't use Graff's opinion as evidence – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 21 '15 at 23:16
  • 1
    @DVK - Ender may think that he had the strength of will to fight the bugggers but the reality is that he's looking back in hindsight. – Valorum Mar 21 '15 at 23:17
  • @DVK - His mental breakdown after the battle would strongly suggest that the pressure would have just been too much for him. – Valorum Mar 21 '15 at 23:19
  • he didn't have a mental breakdown because he killed the Queens. As is very conclusively shown in Ender in Exile. He had a breakdown because he (a) was under constant stress; (b) the Queens were trying to communicate to him philotically and (c) the shock of finding out the truth abruptly. ANd his "breakdown" lasted a very brief time. If he had known the truth, without the shock value, it'd have either not happened or lasted even less. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 21 '15 at 23:29
  • @dvk - Also, would his lieutenants have coped? – Valorum Mar 21 '15 at 23:31

I think the "game" in Ender's game refers to more than just the "simulations." The military folk manipulate Ender every step of the way. He's just a pawn in their game of deception and warfare. Would he have done it if he had known? Maybe. But the brass see him as a tool, an object to use. Not once do they stop to think about Ender, or any of the other children for that matter. They only care about winning. And so they do whatever it takes. And naturally, that means lying to Ender. You can hardly expect them to do anything else.

  • While this may be true, you need to show some documentation from the stories. – Spencer Mar 16 '19 at 4:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.