Ender’s Game: “The Real Education was the Game”

In an age of declining consumption of books during leisure time, Ender’s Game reminds us how enjoyable reading is. It is thus well placed on the Primary Level Enlisted reading list, as a Trojan Horse to the young men and women who may not have discovered that reading for one’s profession is much more interesting than reading for English class.

Ender’s Game is equally relevant to SNCOs and officers, as Orson Scott Card offers interesting insights. Specifically, we should consider how the International Fleet’s training pipeline and doctrinal concepts prepare Ender Wiggin to save the world. Card provides not a handbook, but a discussion guide to debate our preparations for our next “Bugger Invasion.”

In the IF, the emphasis in officer development is the development, first and foremost, of a leader. Ender’s genius is a weapon only insofar as it merges with an ability to inspire others to follow his ten-pound brain. Officer Candidates School and The Basic School are similarly structured—tactics are important, but they are a vessel through which we give Candidates and Second Lieutenants “sets and reps” in leadership. Ender, despite his young age and inexperience prior to training, grew into the kind of leader who “if he had asked [his army] to follow him to the moon without space suits, they would have done it.” Our TBS graduates are not at that level, but they are well equipped to get there.

Just as Ender incorporates the enemy Buggers’ best practices into his own, the Marine Corps has demonstrated equal humility in its doctrinal ideas. Maj Ian Brown outlines how German blitzkrieg tactics informed our maneuver warfare philosophy. Both Ender and the Marine Corps seem to share the idea that the best ideas are not always homegrown, and an enemy fighting for malign ends can contribute mimicable means.

There are also ways in which the IF’s training model diverges from the Marine Corps’. Specifically, their ability to insulate their trainees from the distractions of planet earth is enviable at a time when that particular planet seems to produce more means of distraction. These inhibit our ability to focus prolonged, uninterrupted thought on the kind of type two thinking that produces consequential changes and maximal results.

Additionally, “games” are more important in the IF than the USMC. The Battle School and Command School allow Ender to lead his army in creative ways through ever-increasing challenges. The challenge of those games drives his ultimate success. Too often, we put our Marines in boxes that restrict their growth—whether for their comfort, ours, or both.

The Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said in Flow, “The more a job inherently resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.” Challenging work is the counter-weight to the panoply of modern distractions—it focuses the mind while bringing joy to the Marine in his or her work. Mazer Rackham told Ender, “…humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf.” But it is in the thrill of challenging, complex work—games—that our Marines achieve brilliance.

—Captain Edwin Powers