If you are or were a smart kid, or are someone who deals with smart kids, and haven’t read Ender’s Game, your education is incomplete. It’s a science fiction book, but don’t let that scare you; I’m not a scifi person either. The book centers around a kid named Ender, who’s 6-12 years old in the span of the book. Ender has been selected based on his precocious brilliance to train to be one of the elite future commanders for the defense of Earth and humanity against the obligatory Evil Alien Race. He’s is sent off to Battle School, an elite program located up in the asteroid belt, for training. Battle School has classes and books and the like, but the center of the school is The Game.
The Game is where 11 and 12 year old generals lead armies of 40 of their younger peers in laser-tag like mock battles against the other armies in a zero gravity environment. Its purpose is to produce leaders, and the Game does just that. It’s real, applied learning, unlike books and lectures. It’s a competition, which kids understand; it’s about pride, status. Rank and standings are tracked and known by all. If you’re good at The Game, you’re good at life. These results are immediate, unlike “you’ll get into college someday.”
However, the main purpose of the Battle School shifts during the course of the novel. The Game used to train officers; but now, the fleet needs its commander. And that’s Ender. So the teachers of the school start messing with the Game; they throw him unfair challenges; they ruin the balance and fairness in order to make sure Ender turns out to be the singular commander they need. Everything and everyone else is sacrificed to that end.
Some of the teachers protest. They dislike that the sanctity of the competition is being ruined; that the unfairness of it is going to destroy the order of the known universe. They defend the Game for its own sake, and forget the purpose of it. They, too, live for the competition, the standings, and want to know exactly who is the biggest badass among the 11 year olds under their watch. And when you read it, you completely believe it, that adults could also be caught up in the Game itself enough that they forget the ultimate purpose the Game is meant to serve, even when that purpose is a matter of humanity’s very survival. It’s utterly believable that the Game’s trappings could obscure its purpose among otherwise intelligent adults.
You believe it even more if you’re a debate coach.