"Not a joke, a game. I can make you guys believe anything. I can make you dance around like puppets." (2.64)
When we first meet Ender, a nurse is lying to him, but Ender sees through that (rather silly) attempt at manipulation. The first time we see Ender being effectively manipulated is when his brother plays this “game” with Ender and Val. (Game? Ding ding ding. Check the “Symbolism” page for more on games.) Whether or not this is a game, here we see how manipulation is not just going to be something that adults do to Ender – it’s something everyone does to Ender.
"Individual human beings are all tools, that the others use to help us all survive." (4.83)
Talking to Dink later, Ender seems to agree with this idea – he’s a tool meant for a particular job (8.155). If this is true, then manipulation is a perfectly fine way for people to interact. That is, “manipulation” is another word for using a tool for a job, but it sounds bad when we’re talking about people’s relationships because we usually associate that word with telling lies or tricking people. But what if you could manipulate someone without doing anything bad?
"I'm not going to let the bastards run me, Ender. They've got you pegged, too, and they don't plan to treat you kindly. Look what they've done to you so far." (8.150)
Here’s Dink talking about how he’s going to stay out of the system by refusing the school’s promotions. At the same time, he loves the game so much he can’t quit – so it’s more like he’s meeting the school halfway. Even if he’s compromising, he’s not being manipulated (according to him) because he knows what they’re trying to do.
"And the mind game is designed to help shape them, help them find worlds they can be comfortable in." (9.8)
We tend to think of manipulation as a bad thing, but here Major Imbu (the computer specialist) is describing how the mind game is meant to mess around with students for the sake of their own happiness. That is, the mind game seems like therapy: it manipulates the children into working through some issues. Is this still manipulation?
He's manipulating me, she thought, but that doesn't mean he isn't sincere. (9.112)
In our opinion, this is one of the most interesting comments about manipulation in <em>Ender’s Game</em>. Here Val notes that Peter’s manipulation of her doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lying. In this case, he’s crying in front of her and saying he needs her help. On one hand, that’s a calculated move – he wants her help and he’ll do whatever it takes to get her to. On the other hand, maybe he’s crying because he’s actually upset. It’s useful for us to realize that not all manipulation is lies. As Graff (probably) notes, sometimes telling the truth will get the desired result too (3.8).
Peter and Valentine Wiggin
"Val, <em>we</em> can say the words that everyone else will be saying two weeks later. We can do that." (9.80)
Peter is the most manipulative of the Wiggin kids. Or is he? Maybe he’s merely the most open about it. Here he is, planning with Val about how they should manipulate the world. In this case, his form of manipulation will be almost entirely verbal. (By contrast, the school teachers try to manipulate Ender through a number of techniques, such as isolation.) Peter and Val are useful for us because they talk a lot about their plans for manipulation (so we can see exactly how they plan to do it); and also because they demonstrate that manipulation is not totally about Ender. (See also 9.37 and 9.63.)
"This is best for Ender, too. We're bringing him to his full potential." (11.10)
If the mind game is meant to be something like therapy for trouble super-geniuses, then here we’re given a slightly different purpose for manipulation: the school administrators are messing with Ender in order to make him the best he can be. (This is probably Anderson speaking.) Note that here, the manipulation is not just for the benefit of humanity – it’s not just that Ender is a tool. The speaker also thinks “this is best for Ender.” So here we have a slight defense of manipulation.
He held up a limp hand. "See the strings?" (13.105)
Here Ender is complaining to his sister (during his visit to Earth) about how he’s being manipulated by the adults in his life and has no real options. In other words, he feels like a puppet. Which is exactly what Peter called him in 2.64. Just a coincidence, right? Or maybe we’re meant to draw some comparison between the different manipulators in Ender’s life.
Peter and Valentine Wiggin
“We play by their rules long enough, and it becomes our game." (13.114)
What exactly is Val saying here? She’s trying to comfort Ender by telling him that he’s not a puppet other people's games, he’s actually a player. Is she right? The school administrators’ other quotes (that we pulled here) make us reconsider our attitude towards manipulation: oh, well, if Anderson says that manipulation is good for Ender, maybe he’s right. But here, Val takes another approach. She seems to be saying that we can escape manipulation by…ignoring it? Or leaning into it? This seems like a radically different approach from, say, Dink’s awareness of manipulation.
"It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it.” (14.392)
And here we have the baldest statement of the role of manipulation in this book: the school administrators had to manipulate Ender into having a set of skills and attitudes in order to reach a certain objective. (This whole section in the book is worth re-reading.) This part always makes us rethink the importance of manipulation in this book – and youth too: perhaps they needed someone young enough to be fooled.