Ender’s Hunger Games People Play


Several books involving game play of some sort were recommended to me recently. So I read them and now you, lucky reader, can benefit from my reviews. Knowledge is power: read wisely!


First, my teenager chose Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, for our mother/daughter book club. I approached the book skeptically, because it’s science fiction and that is not my favorite genre. Many people love science fiction above all else, and some have told me that I only don’t like it because I’ve only read bad science fiction. No one could help but adore good science fiction. I recognize this as the dark local beer argument. Years ago, when my husband was my boyfriend, he tried to alter my conviction that beer tastes like weasel piss by introducing me to dark local good beer. It was a nice try, but to this day I can only drink beer if I’m already drunk, and I don’t get drunk. (Too dangerous—leads to drinking weasel piss.)


I’m not even completely sure what makes a book science fiction, but I know that if a book includes space battles, it is science fiction. And I hate space battles. I know, I know, everyone else thinks space battles are the coolest things ever. Not me. The mere suggestion of an impending space battle causes my eyelids to grow heavy. Ponderously lengthy descriptions of men (or in the case of Ender’s Game, boys) in fancy suits/ships dodging and weaving and using their brilliant tactical minds to outwit outlast outplay the enemy with plenty of explosions but our hero always prevails and…oh, I so don’t care.


So I planned to skim Ender’s Game, which was obviously going to be stuffed full of space battles. It was also a dumb story. But is it good science fiction? It’s incredibly popular—there’s a wait list for it at the library even though it was written decades ago. Does that mean it’s good? I’m afraid I’m not qualified to judge. I don’t like science fiction.


Then I read the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which also seems science fictiony, even though there are no space battles. There’s lots of fighting in a future world with technology we don’t have. Does that make it science fiction? Anyway, I found the series enjoyable, probably because it’s so explicitly political, and while space battles with alien bugs bore me silly, issues of government control, citizen rebellion, dichotomous, duplicitous human behavior, and good vs evil (and which is which) remind me of home. Having an ass-kicking, arrow-shooting female protagonist also piqued my interest. However, if there’s a fourth book in which Katniss shoots arrows at alien bugs in space, I’m not reading it.


Truth be told, I read the series so that I could read my 11-year-old’s book report about the series and know what she was talking about. So, mission accomplished.


Games People Play, by Eric Berne, came up on my friend OBL’s site, so I picked it up for fun. The book was written by a psychotherapist, decades ago, on transactional analysis. The basic premise: we all have, lurking inside of us, a child, and adult, and a parent. They all come out at different times and interact with other people’s inner children, adults, or parents. The author calls the patterns of interactions that occur “games,” and gives them cutesy names, like the “If It Weren’t for You” game and the “Look How Hard I’ve Tried” game.


They work like this. Spouse 1 says, “If it weren’t for you…(my life would be so much better because I could travel the world or something).” But, says Dr. Berne, Spouse 1 chose stick-in-the-mud Spouse 2 because Spouse 1 is really, secretly afraid to travel the world, and now she/he doesn’t have to face that fear. And, Spouse X, who has no real intention of improving the relationship, attends therapy but undermines it. Then Spouse X walks away with a clean conscience, declaring “Look how hard I’ve tried!”


What annoyed me about this book is that Berne presents the games as universal human behavior rather than artifacts of culture. What might ring true in one population at one point in time may be way off the mark for a different population, or even a sub-population, or at a different time. And as OBL noted, Berne held and incorporated all of the attitudes and prejudices of his time about the proper roles, behaviors, and feelings of women, which made me want to play the Throwing the Book across the Room game.


That concludes today’s edition of Games People Read. May you always be the winner.




16 thoughts on “Ender’s Hunger Games People Play

  1. Well, I don’t like science fiction either. A friend recommended Ender’s Game in such reverential terms, I had to read it. It is a certainly the best science fiction book I have read. (Full disclosure, I have never read Dune.) It does have space battles. (Well, mostly space battle simulations, since it’s a book about training children to fight space battles.) I tend to skim battle scenes (one of the reasons I couldn’t appreciate Lord of the Rings, maybe) because I just don’t care. But there is a lot of non-space battle stuff in there that was very interesting to me. Would *you* like it? Couldn’t say. But if you’re a science fiction hater who *has* to read a science fiction book, Ender’s Game is a very good choice. Tangential aside: I met Orson Scott Card once, ages ago–he was a friend of a friend–and at the time he and I commiserated, briefly, about the loneliness of the Mormon Democrat. He was very gracious and likeable. In the intervening years he has become something of a blowhard and a kook, at least in public life. I think he has spent as much time writing screeds against gay marriage as he has writing fiction (and he’s still churning out books regularly, as far as I know). A friend of mine was just noting the other day that it’s interesting, OSC being such a homophobe (not merely because he opposes gay marriage but because he really seems pretty homophobic) when there is so much latent homoeroticism in Ender’s Game. It’s been 20+ years since I read it, but I remember enough to think, “Yeah, that seems familiar.” So if you’re interested in psychoanalyzing a blowhard homophobe via his slightly homoerotic masterpiece (it’s by far his best work), that’s another reason to read the book. I still haven’t read Hunger Games. I keep meaning to. Someday I’ll make an honest woman of myself.

  2. Wait you “planned to skim” Ender’s Game? Or did you actually skim it? If the latter, then that was a dumb decision. Ender’s Game is more human psychology and politics than sci-fi. Hunger Games is actually waaaay more sci-fi, in terms of it’s just all just mostly action in a fantasy, futuristic world, while Ender’s Game is a human psyche increasingly pushed to the breaking point.  

  3. @madhousewife – Oh, I did read it. I guess I didn’t make that clear. I thought the premise of the book was idiotic, though it was a page turner. And yes, I was also amused by the homoerotic imagery from the homophobic author. “Why are the boys in the book *naked* so much?” I wondered. And the nude fight-to-the-death scene *in the shower*? Oy. 

  4. @whataboutbahb – Partly. Mostly it was the whole premise. The best military minds in the world think the best way to defeat this enemy is to take a tiny but brilliant child and abusively raise him to fight the big battle, while still a child. As opposed to, say, having one of those grown-ups do it. The other piece, where the brother and sister effect changes in planetary policy by blogging–equally absurd. The fact that Ender does not ever behave like an actual human child was a big problem for me, too.On the other hand, I did go into it with a bad attitude and the genre is not my cup of tea, so don’t let my churlish assessment spoil your enjoyment!

  5. I read Hunger Games because my daughter was reading it & wanted to see the movie… I actually enjoyed it. My son and husband have been trying to convince me to read Ender’s Games (in husband’s case, for YEARS), but no-go.  I’ll admit I haven’t given it a serious try, just couldn’t even work up the initial interest.  Thank you for confirming my reluctance.  I also hate the taste of beer and all beer tastes the same – i.e. bad.  I knew there was a reason we were friends. 

  6. Ender’s Game has been on my list to read for some time, but I just can’t get myself to actually pull the trigger. You haven’t really helped in that regard, so I’ll just leave it on the list for now. I definitely enjoyed Hunger Games for the plot – the writing….eh. I won’t be reading the psychology book. That’s why we have OBL!!!!

  7. When I read science fiction I always skip all the space battles, whether they take place in rocket ships or on dragon backs. I find battles of any kind completely yawn-worthy, which is probably why I enjoyed The Hunger Games. Those aren’t really battles they’re having, until the third book. I hated the third book. I hated it from beginning to ridiculously stupid end, but I’m still making my son read it because I think a person should finish a series if they’re 5/6 the way through it. HAHAHAHA re Berne. Yes, I agree. And I already noted part of what I agree with. But there were a few instances in there where I at least had the sense that other people have encountered the same dead-end relationship issues I was encountering, and that maybe someone knows a way around them. I think I found a way around them. For now.

  8. @ordinarybutloud – Movies with battles–space battles or other battles–are even worse. Directors in love with their special effects drag the battle scenes out until I want to throw popcorn at the screen and yell “can we get back to the story, please?” Fortunately, I rarely go to movies.

  9. I do like Science Fiction, but I didn’t care much for Ender’s Game.  As far as movies go, I want to throw popcorn at the screen during the long, boring bits between space battles…

  10.          Forget the stupid science fiction.  I keep telling you, if you want a kick-ass female protagonist read the Lisbeth Salander books. (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Etc.)   You will love this girl.  No man ever has to save her, and she manages to save the only man she half way has any use for. Her philosophy of life is, ‘don’t get mad, get even!”  And she does! There are three books in the series, read them in order.  I’m not going to tell you again!

  11. Hey there! I’ve been reading your website for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from
    Lubbock Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the good job!

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