How Ender’s Game Should Have Been

When I first picked up Orson Scott Card’s Nebula and Hugo winning science fiction book back in 2008, I was much more naive than I am now. That isn’t to say I was any less awkward, weird, or socially outcasted than I am today.

I grew up being bullied for being different. I distinctively remember back in kindergarten, when I was asked by other kids why I did my math problems so fast, why I read while they smeared glue all over their fingers, why I didn’t want to go out and play. I grew up in a community that was open-minded — just, not open-minded enough to accept a gifted and awkward child as one of their own.

Ender’s Game (1985 edition)

As a result, I was often confined to my own spaces, making up elaborate stories to pass the time in my isolation. While I pretended to laugh with the others, take interest in what they did, my heart was never with them. No, I was the epitome of the nerd, the geek, the socially outcast gifted child, and it was around the time when I was at the peak of my depression over this that I stumbled upon Ender’s Game.

It was honestly an accident — I had read other works of Orson Scott Card recommended by my father beforehand (of course, always indoors, while the others were playing on the playground), and decided that I liked his writing style enough to continue onwards with another book of his. The cover looked intriguing enough, albeit with the note that there would be a Preface inside. Never one to skip additional sections of books when handed to me, I skimmed through the Preface.

It would be an exaggeration to say my life changed forever, but in my eyes, my view of the world really wasn’t ever the same. The particular edition I picked up had been an anniversary edition — as a result, a prominent fan of Card’s decided to write the Preface of the book, in which he described how much he resonated with Ender, how much of his life was emulated through the pages, and just how grateful he was to Card for changing his view of the world — and of himself.

Beyond curious at this point, I took a shot at the book and was unable to put it down for the next two days. Page after page, line after line, the thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin sprawled out across my mind. I ran through the halls of Battle School with little Ender, dodged bullies alongside him, walked across a dirt road in North Carolina, felt the rush of the stale air of Eros against my face, cried and smiled and laughed like I never had before.

This article can easily be a tribute to how much the book really changed my life. Although I never had the chance to correspond with Card like so many fans of the past, for years it was my sole ambition. I eagerly read all of the books in the series, from the Shadow sequence to Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. I breathed in the early stories, the spinoffs, and even requested an advance copy of Shadows in Flight when I discovered to my delight that yet another installment of the “Enderverse” was due to arrive.

As any other fan would have been, I was also incredibly excited when news came of the new Ender’s Game movie. Having known that Card was putting off the idea of a movie based off his famed book for decades, this was exciting news, and I loved the excitement and anticipation that accompanied the Enderverse community as more and more tidbits from the film began to leak out. Comments on the cast, the special effects, whether the ending would do the book justice, what parts were being cut out from the film, all were valid points of argument.

At this point, I had yet not weaned off my initial excitement from the series, and I was still swept up in an emotional tide. My favorite character was Peter, and I was, suffice to say, very excited to see how he would be portrayed in the blockbuster.

It was also around this time that I first heard news of Card’s political views. I didn’t want to believe the news at first, so I shied away from the gossip columns, pretending I didn’t know what was going on. But I did know what was going on. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I did understand the scope of what this unearthed controversy would cause, and I wish I didn’t have to witness it tearing apart one of the best parts of my childhood.

To put it into perspective, Ender’s Game has had a special place within my heart for more than half a decade. I didn’t want to have to let go of an incredible triumph of literature, a tribute to humanity, and a deeply moving story that had taken me alive and spat me out, raw and filled to the brim with raw emotion only years ago. As a result, I hid away that part of me that cared about what was going on.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your perspective — the rest of the world didn’t follow suit. Blame it on the media, blame it on the controversy, but with the release of the film came one of Hollywood’s worst and most recent failures. With a budget of $110 million, the film made little over $125 million at the box office. To this day, two years after the film had been released, after its director, cast, crew, and associated personalities had moved on, people still associate the failure with Card. Ender’s Game is still tainted today.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way, though. I recently revisited an old thread I’d found on Reddit, and I cried once again after reading the comments of some readers. I cried more after scouring more old articles, reading about similar experiences other readers had had during the same difficult time I had to cope with simultaneously hating myself for hanging on to his books, while loving myself for not giving up on something that meant so much to me.

I know I’m not the only one who’s felt this way, and I sure hope I’m not the only one who’s still conflicted. Ender’s Game should have been what it was when I first picked up the book — a story of a boy, isolated from his family and friends, forced into difficult situations, and able to deliver a keen understanding of humanity nonetheless. It was supposed to tell of a boy who grew up not understanding beauty, who was forced to take part in war games, to assimilate to a culture that was not his, to force himself into an empty husk that had been filled time and time again, and to still — despite all — fight to undo the damage he had caused.

Thumbing through volumes of stories, from some of the kindest portrayals of Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Jewish, English, among other cultures to keen observations about the subtleties of the human spirit, I couldn’t bear to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through their creator’s mind at the very moment he penned the words. Perhaps, like Peter Wiggin, he had changed after all of these decades — I just wish we didn’t have to judge what he created based on who he was.

I’ve heard the saying that often times “You don’t make art out of good intentions.” Certainly, we’ve had our fill of terrible artists who have given so much to us — Wagner, Degas, T.S. Eliot, Genet, Byron, Rimbaud, Flaubert, to name a few from history. Do we judge an artist’s work by their intentions, or should the work be a standalone piece from what they believed and did during their lifetime?

Many would argue against this, especially those who chose to boycott Ender’s Game after it premiered in film across the world. Yet, if this is so, why is it that except for that small part of us that refuses to enjoy the work of someone so horrid, someone so disgusting, we still feel the tug at our heart every time we read our favorite passage? Why do we still feel a movement within us when our eyes trace over the same familiar paths? Why do we return to the piece before we knew the context behind it, unable to relinquish what we had poured into breathing it into life?

Art is supposed to be the culmination of the relationship between a creator and a viewer. Yet, if the creator is so horrible, why does the piece not reflect that same tained disgust? It’s only the superimposed understanding that what we’re viewing is wrong, and that by association that means we are bad people, that forces us into admitting that the art is bad, as well.

It’s been years since this argument has even been relevant, but I still feel it within me. I still wonder if I’m a horrible person to still admire Card to breathing to life characters as real as the ones I’ve come to love, for appreciating the words he’s given to our generation, for dedicating hours to reading and re-reading what he had penned decades ago. I still wonder if the people hurt by him are worth the beautiful words he’s given, and whether my fantasies can ever be justified by the reality of what we face. And I wonder sometimes why Ender’s Game couldn’t have just been what it was meant to be — a story, a novel, a game.

Then again, perhaps that question can’t be answered simply because it doesn’t have an answer. To create truly great art, does one not have to bear witness to horrible events, to experience riveting emotions to the point where they can convey those very same horrors, and in return the beauty that comes with them?

I’d like to think so. Even if it’s really just a fantasy, I really hope there’s some hope in the world for stories like Ender’s to live. If not thrive, at least to exist, and to be known, so that voices covered by controversies don’t have to smother their last living breath.

I’d really like to think that somewhere, there’s a place for little girls who feel so alone to take joy in knowing that there’s a story with them, and to not have to care about the realities of those behind the pages because, after all, reality is cruel, and it’s really no place for children.