Mass Effect 3: The Indoctrination Theory

So, after spending over three thousand words looking at the endings, I feel like I have to bring this theory up.

Oh, and before I forget…

SPOILERS!

Because, well, I really like it. Even though I know I shouldn’t.

It Was All A Dream…

One of the more subtle abilities the Reapers have is the ability to subtly control someone else’s mind, to get their victims to side with the Reapers and aid them in their grand plans. This was done to great effect in all three games, and is one of the more terrifying things about them, because the process is slow, the victim believes wholeheartedly that what they are doing is right, and you can never tell if its happening to you.

And so, the theory is that after Shepard gets hit by the mega-ultra-laser that nearly kills him, everything that happens after is a dream, designed to Indoctrinate Shepard. The Reapers are trying to get you to give up trying to destroy them by convincing you that destroying the Reapers is a bad idea, that what you should REALLY do is try to take control of them (anotion that’s quite popular among the Indoctrinated) or have everyone become a merging of Synthetic and Organic material (which, in the end, are what the Reapers ARE).

So, Shepard taking the Destroy option is him fighting the Indoctrination, and taking the other two is him giving in, which is why only the Destroy option has Shepard potentially survive.

Why Does the Theory Work?

There are two real strengths for the theory.

The first is rather populist in nature: It gets rid of the bad endings, and replaces them with the hope for better ones down the line.

Now, that SOUNDS like simple optimism. And there’s a healthy amount of that in this theory, no question. But given the quality of the rest of the game’s story, its hard not to think that the ending was so bad on purpose.

Okay, its REALLY optimistic. But there’s another reason for this Theory’s prominence: It explains a LOT of plot holes. To name a few…

  • Why is your ship running from the energy wave, when it was in the fighting around Earth last time you saw it?
  • Why are party members who were with you on the ground on Earth suddenly back on your ship?
  • Why are the obvious faults in the Reaper Intelligence’s logic never examined or questioned?
  • Why does Shepard’s pistol in the end have infinite ammo? Not just infinite clips that he can pull out of nowhere, but infinite rounds per clip?
  • Why can Shepard breathe in the final area, considering that it looks like there’s no walls or windows keeping the vacuum out?
  • Why does the Reaper Intelligence have a form that looks like a kid that Shepard failed to save at the beginning of the game?
  • Why don’t the exploding Mass Relays wipe out entire systems, like the Alpha Relay in The Return DLC from ME2 did?
  • How can an energy wave combine all organic life with Synthetic life?
  • Why do you hear an NPC say that no one survived the attack while you are limping towards the finish, in clear view of others.

And there’s more. A lot more. A lot about the ending doesn’t make sense, only using the logic internal to the game’s universe, characters and technology. I mean, I didn’t write three posts tearing the endings apart for nothing.

There’s also a dark reason for this. You see, Mass Effect 3 is going to have DLC developed and released post-release. Its implied by content in-game that some of the DLC will involve retaking Omega, a space station that was heavily featured in Mass Effect 2. There will likely be more, but, from a business perspective, what’s the point of DLC for a game where the ending is known? Much of ME2’s DLC involved events that its quite likely took place after the end of ME2’s regular campaign.

If all of ME3’s DLC has to take place before the end of the game… well, it doesn’t sound that impressive, from a sale’s perspective…

Like I said, its a dark and cynical reason. but it does make some sense…

Why Does the Theory Not Work?

The obvious reason: Never ascribe to malice what can be attributed to incompetence.

The ending is bad. But Bioware has been bad before. Mass Effect has been bad before, although, admittedly, not THIS bad.

And, well, this was released. If it were any other game, this ending wouldn’t be given a second look, because everyone was hoping for a perfect ending.

It was a Deus Ex Machina, sure, but that was the only way you could beat the Reapers. It had plot holes, but its hardly alone in that regard. The Synthesis ending IS, on its own, an impressive concept. And, if there had been an anti-climax after the ending, explaining what had happened to your companions, the ending would have largely been shrugged off as “Its bad, but how else could it have been done?”

Besides, the dark, cynical reason why it could work? It could only work once. Extorting DLC money to get the REAL ending is the sort of community breaking action that would basically destroy any trust that the players have in Bioware. Even evil corporate overlords wouldn’t go that far.

So, Where Do I Stand?

The rational side of my mind sees the logic in both sides.

…and the emotional side of my mind wants to throw as much money at Bioware as it will take to make a good ending. Please note the “I’m a whiny fanboy and I don’t care” tag on this article…

But. There’s one other side of this.

If this is Bioware’s intent all along? That this ending is really just Shepard fighting Indoctrination? I kinda want to see where they go with this. Its an impressive curveball to throw, and given the quality of the rest of the game…

Yeah. I’d want to see how it plays out.

But I won’t hold my breath.

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  1. #1 by Jeremiah on March 18, 2012 - 11:32 AM

    Why is your ship running from the energy wave, when it was in the fighting around Earth last time you saw it?
    THt is one of the things i don’t get also
    Why are party members who were with you on the ground on Earth suddenly back on your ship?
    The creators rushed the ending
    Why are the obvious faults in the Reaper Intelligence’s logic never examined or questioned?
    Well, Shepard just took a big ass lazer to the face. Im pretty sure he would be too exhausted to ask questions
    Why does Shepard’s pistol in the end have infinite ammo? Not just infinite clips that he can pull out of nowhere, but infinite rounds per clip?
    Because the creators don’t want you to complain about running out of ammo and dying
    Why can Shepard breathe in the final area, considering that it looks like there’s no walls or windows keeping the vacuum out?
    The citadel is as old as the reapers im pretty sure some where between you and the earliest life forms created an oxygen field
    Why does the Reaper Intelligence have a form that looks like a kid that Shepard failed to save at the beginning of the game?
    Because the “catalyst” not the reaper intelligence is able to manipulate itself to show the price of war.
    Why don’t the exploding Mass Relays wipe out entire systems, like the Alpha Relay in The Return DLC from ME2 did?
    Simple the crucible is naturally part of the mass relays, no? And whats more natural dying of a heart attack, or taking a bullet to the heart? And does dying of a heart attack leave more of a mess than a bullet wound? Of course it doesn’t.
    How can an energy wave combine all organic life with Synthetic life?
    Easy; with the crucible
    Why do you hear an NPC say that no one survived the attack while you are limping towards the finish, in clear view of others.
    Simple, Maybe they didn’t see you?

    • #2 by wraithfighter on March 18, 2012 - 2:13 PM

      Yeah, there are explanations to some of the plot holes, but some of those explanations are less than compelling. I was just bringing them up to explain why the theory has been gaining so many attractors.

  2. #3 by Jay Quinn on April 1, 2012 - 6:29 PM

    Im sorry this theory just makes sense to me esp when you shoot anderson and on purpose they show a wound on shepard in the same spot as anderson and he is bleeding..they even show u his hand like it just happened…also if this theory isnt true then why do you get a 2second clip on someone in uniform breathe? this just seems real to me…it wouldnt make sense to make 2 awesome games and then all of a sudden write a bad ending..bioware is bad at times but this game has been in the making for a while..so as a fan i say just wait till we see what they do for us fans and gives us the truth about it…and on another note bioware reps been on twitter and facebook leaving comments to fans saying and i quote “i wanna say more but i will say spoiler free” and also when someone left them a comment bout the game failing ending the bioware rep said and i quote “if i could discuss more, everyone would think different” so lets be paitent n see what happs

    • #4 by wraithfighter on April 3, 2012 - 12:18 AM

      Yeah, pretty much every single time I look more into the ending, the more I fall in line with the Indoctrination Theory. I keep wondering if it’s just Confirmation Bias coming into play, but I do know this: if this turns out to be a false ending, and the real ending is in paid DLC?

      I will buy it. And that might be the last Bioware game I ever buy. Because I cannot think of a more heinous betrayal than that.

      • #5 by jay quinn on April 3, 2012 - 2:18 AM

        See I wouldn’t go as far saying It’s the last game I’ll buy from bioware Lol this is how I look at it, if they do say it is the indoctrination theory and bioware does right and makes the true ending and end battle right it will be the most genius conclusion to a awesome series ever…but if it is true then we are fans and players truely know what it is to feel indoctrinated… But i hope and pray It’s free cuz it will be the first company that ever sold a incomplete game and will deff piss people off…I just wanna see how bioware makes it up to us. Because like i said with it being an amazing franchise and awesome story telling I honestly don’t think bioware would leave that many plot holes or not be that blind to see what we all say…but if bioware did drop the ball it will def be a sad day for gaming cuz they just screwed a good franchise…let’s hope for the best..

      • #6 by wraithfighter on April 3, 2012 - 2:38 AM

        Here’s a question for you, because it hit me and hit me damn hard.

        If the Indoctrination Theory was true, and there was DLC for the real ending, BUT:

        * The DLC cost $10-20 in total.
        * The DLC added new enemies to kill, both for single player and the coop multiplayer.
        * The DLC had a few new coop maps, as well as a good old fashioned balance pass on it all.
        * AND the DLC added 10-15 hours of gameplay to the end of the game.

        Would you buy it? Would you feel cheated that the real ending wasn’t contained in the original game?

      • #7 by Jay Quinn on April 3, 2012 - 6:31 AM

        If it included all that.. I def buy it cuz honestly if it was the ending It’s been one of the best games series I ever played and love the whole mass Effect universe…but I def down to buy it as a fan…

  1. Game Producer Quest, Part 02 | Then again…

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