Ender’s Game follows Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, the novel’s protagonist, as he is coaxed and guided to become Earth’s primary hope against an alien race known as the Formics. Ender is driven by two primary desires, one which is born out of patriotism and another which is born out of a quest for identity. He feels he has a patriotic duty to his country to help defeat the Formics once and for all, ending the intergalactic war that has spanned decades. He also has a personal desire to establish an identity of his own, an identity that distances himself from the cruelty and antagonism of his brother, Peter. The conflict between his desire to aid the International Fleet and his desire to be free of the clutches of others who seek to use him influences much of the novel’s conflict.

The inciting incident occurs when, after years of being monitored by IF command, Ender is selected to enroll in Battle School, an accomplishment neither of his siblings could achieve. Ender’s presence in Battle School threatens both his desire to prove useful to the IF and his desire to establish his own identity. Throughout his entire stint at Battle School, the relentless and unfair challenges push Ender to a near-breaking point, causing him to question his ability to lead the International Fleet. Simultaneously, his surprising capacity for cruelty, his aptitude for battle, and his willingness to do as Colonel Graff wishes make it hard for Ender forge his own identity.

The first obstacle Ender faces, and by far the primary obstacle between him and his objectives, is the relentless antagonism and intentional isolation of Colonel Graff and, eventually, Mazer Rackham. Ender’s adult supervisors believe that if they impose upon Ender under unimaginable stress, unfair battle circumstances, and a state of social isolation, his full potential will be unlocked. While this strategy does contribute to Ender’s success, it also makes it difficult for Ender to forge an identity for himself separate from what he is able to contribute. This oppressiveness takes the form of Ender being required to oppose other Battle School armies at large disadvantages, his communications home being intercepted and destroyed, and the Battle School leadership explicitly putting Ender in danger by refusing him protection when other students threaten his life. This stress follows Ender as he transitions from Battle School to Command School.

In Command School, under the direction of war hero Mazer Rackham, Ender is once again faced with unfair academic circumstances. The simulations Command School requires Ender to undergo are relentlessly assigned to him without rest for him or the commanders he oversees. By the time Ender faces his final simulation, he lacks confidence in the sustainability of his health and strategic prowess. Command School serves as the most important moment of Ender doubting his ability to fulfill his patriotic desire of successfully ending the war. While Ender’s kindness and ability to empathize with his enemy distinguishes him from Peter, Ender fears that failure to win the war will justify Peter’s threats and taunts. Immediately prior to the final battle, the reader glimpses the most prominent moment of doubt about whether Ender will achieve his goals. 

Throughout the entirety of Battle School and Command School, Ender thoroughly researches the Formic species in order to understand them. The insight Ender gains into the Formic species makes it possible for him to experience a sense of compassion for his enemy, which further complicates his ability to perform. This empathy enables him to understand his enemy well enough to defeat them, but simultaneously increases his guilt about doing so. Ender’s capacity for compassion reaches detrimental heights during the novel’s climax, when Mazer Rackham reveals to Ender that the final simulation, which Ender passed, was not a simulation at all but the actual final battle against the Formics at their home planet. Ender struggles to reconcile his empathy for the Formics with the fact that he just completely destroyed their entire species. This realization sends Ender into a state of mental collapse, as it serves as the ultimate conflict between his goals. Ender successfully achieved wartime success, but only did so by performing as the pawn his oppressive authorities intended him to become. 

The resolution and falling action of the novel come after the war concludes. Ender, along with his sister Valentine, travel to a now-empty Formic colony on another planet to aid the Human expansion. While on this planet, Ender discovers that the Formics had been attempting to communicate with Ender all along. The Formics originally attacked Earth under the impression that Humans were not a sentient race. Upon learning of Human sentience, however, the Formics vowed to leave Earth alone. With the knowledge that the Formics had become peaceful after realizing their mistake, Ender stumbles upon an egg containing a Formic queen. The novel ends with Ender setting out into space to find a suitable place for the egg to hatch. His quest to protect the egg can be translated into a quest to repent for the genocide of the Formic race, finally allowing him to explore his own sense of morality and create an identity separate from expectations imposed upon him by others.