“You did better. They think you're better. But I don't want a better little brother, Ender. I don't want a Third.” (2.45)
Almost all of the competition in <em>Ender’s Game</em> is between the kids at Battle School. (Or, if you prefer, between Ender and the teachers at Battle School.) But before that, the kids were competing to get into Battle School. Peter was rejected when he was five and he’s angry that Ender got even a little bit closer. For Peter, that’s a judgment on him – it’s not just that Ender does better on the tests, but that Ender <em>is</em> better.
Ender liked it better, though, when two boys played against each other. (5.94)
Battle School has some video games in which the players compete against the computer, but most of the games – especially the really important ones – have the students compete against each other. Ender learns from watching the computer and from watching the students, but he only starts making a name for himself when he finally plays against the older boys.
This is Dink’s diagnosis of why Rose is crazy (and why everyone else is also nuts). The students at the Battle School have elevated competition to being the only thing they care about. But Dink remembers that this is just a game, even though he loves it; and he recognizes that the uncertainty of the game can be a little damaging to these kids’ psyches. Competition can bring out the best of us, but it can also deform the players.
The message was clear. Winning is more important than anything. (8.38)
This is the message that Rose de Nose gets across to Ender when he joins Salamander Army – and Ender really internalizes it. Even though these are just games, winning comes to be a life-and-death situation. Partially because it really is – there might be aliens coming to attack them. But partially this focus on winning the games is… well, maybe some students are losing their sense of what’s really important.
Peter and Valentine Wiggin
“The world is always a democracy in times of flux, and the man with the best voice will win.” (9.102)
This is Peter’s view of the world and the opportunity that’s about to open with the end of the bugger war. According to Peter, there’s competition all over– it’s not just about who gets into the Battle School and performs best in the war. According to Peter, democracy is also a competitive field that allows the best person to rise to the top. And Peter sees himself as that man.
“If anybody deserves a cheer, it's you. But that's life. Make them eat dust." (11.86)
This is Carn Carby, showing how to be gracious when you lose. Carby thinks the other captains are being jerks because they aren’t recognizing Ender’s win. What’s curious here is that Ender won the game, fair and square. As Carn notes, though, that win doesn’t translate into respect in real life, because life is unfair. (At least, that’s what people usually mean when they say “that’s life.”) So there’s some way in which the game is set apart from regular life.
"I'm glad you won. If I ever beat you, Ender, I want to do it fair." (12.66)
To drive home that idea of competition and fairness, here’s Pol Slattery commenting on his loss to Ender when Pol's team had a ridiculous unfair advantage. (His team’s frozen players were becoming unfrozen – which doesn’t seem like a good model for anything that Ender actually faces when he fights the buggers.) Now, Ender is so good that some people think playing against him will never be fair (see 12.177), but there’s still the hope that these competitions could be fair. Except these competitions are meant to be education for dealing with an unfair life (see the previous quote).
Everything they can do to beat me, thought Ender. Everything they can think of, change all the rules, they don't care, just so they beat me. Well, I'm sick of the game. (12.137)
Here’s one of the clearest statements of an issue that bothers Ender (and will continue to bother him): that even though he’s competing against the other boys, the school administrators are screwing with him. They make Dragon Army fight earlier and more often than any other team. Ender feels like his competition isn’t just against the other boys – it’s against the whole school.
"Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins – thoroughly.” (12.264)
What does this mean? Anderson tries to tell Imbu that Ender isn’t really scary (at least not to people) because he’s not a killer, just a winner. This seems like a slight cheat since what Ender is winning (and will continue to win) is a competition to the death. It’s like saying of a gladiator that he’s not a killer, he just wins… by killing the other guy. By putting this into terms of winning, Anderson seems to hide the dangerous aspect of competition here – that competition is about war.
Peter and Valentine Wiggin
"I don't want to beat Peter."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want him to love me." (13.176-8)
OK, after pointing out that Ender is a dangerous kid when it comes to competing, this part always gets us because he tells Val that it’s not about competition for him. He doesn’t want to compete against Peter – he wants a totally different relationship with his brother. Unfortunately, as we know from the first quote in this section, Ender and Peter’s relationship seems like competition (at least to Peter). But this quote does remind us that there are other ways for people to relate – we don’t have to compete with each other.