Ender’s Game: The Book That Cannot Be Adapted

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Plenty of sources have been reporting that Ender’s Game is going to be a video game. Which, you know, of course. It says ‘game’ right there in the title. But it kind of makes you wonder why it hasn’t happened already. The book was published 23 years ago and won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as did (inexplicably) its (horrible) sequel Speaker for the Dead. But it’s never been adapted in any medium: game, movie, mini-series, not even (I might be wrong about this) a comic book.

Why not? There’s probably some legal stuff going on in the background, there always is. And you have to think Orson Scott Card controls the rights pretty tightly. And the movie would be damn hard to pull off: it’s all child actors, all the time, and there’s a hell of a lot of weightlessness going on in the battle room. That’s a lot of CGI.

As for the game, well, I just hope they don’t restrict it to the battle room. That seems like death to me. Like those Quidditch games, you’d run afoul of the fact that the core game mechanic just isn’t that interesting. Sure, it’s 3D combat, and you can make things a bit more interesting the way he does in the book, by varying the settings — tweaking the lighting, adding “stars,” having soldiers unfreeze after they’ve been hit, one army comes in early, change the victory conditions, etc. But bottom line, you’ve only got one kind of unit and one kind of weapon. Drag.

Plus, anybody playing the game already knows everything that Ender slowly figures out over the course of the novel. The enemy’s gate already = down. Where do you go from there?

So I guess you embed it in the larger game-o-sphere of the full Battle School. Build in the mini-games that students play in their off-hours, especially that psychedelic adventure game with the giant’s drink. (I remember picking Ender’s Game up in a bookstore and thinking: oh my God, he’s describing what it’s like to play an adventure game! I bought it even though I couldn’t afford it. I wonder if Card was the first to do that?) Build in occasional Bonzo-style naked shower-fights with rival captains! And the part that I really covet, a whole strategic player-trading eco-system whereby you swap students (who have different attributes? I guess?) with other teams. And I suppose if you really wanted to blow things out, you could have the alpha-types graduate to Command School and play out that whole sequence.

That’s a lot to ask of one game. You’d need a package of Orange Box-level sophistication and diversity, which doesn’t come along every day. Neh? Eh.