More Mass Effect 3 SPOILER Ending Thoughts – The Indoctrination Theory
OK. When it came to the Mass Effect 3 ending, I’d said my piece (spoiled and non-spoiled) and counted to three. I was good, I was finished, I was content. Then I had a brief conversation with a friend yesterday. He’d never played any of the Mass Effect games and wanted some questions answered, so he could put the frothing waves of rage into context. I answered them from my perspective. Then he said something about a theory that was the hot thing on the Intarwebs, something I’d paid zero attention to, a little thing called the Indoctrination Theory. I decided to check into this theory. What I read changed everything.
Essentially, my friend took a stick and jammed it into the anthill of my brain and stirred it all up. The rat bastard.
Oh, and if I haven’t been entirely clear, there are spoilers below the “Read the rest of this entry”. SPOILERS. Spoilers. (spoilers)
So, what is the Indoctrination Theory? You can go here to read about it, see a video that a fan created examining the ending, and all that stuff. I’m going to summarize it here, and give you my thoughts and observations about why it might be true. For the record, I’m happy with the ending as-is. I can live with it. Do I want more? Yes. But I have to say this: I want this theory to be true. I am Fox Muldering all over this shit. And if it is true, then the people behind this have the biggest set of balls I’ve ever seen. Like Santa’s sack huge. I mean, fuck brass balls. These guys have balls of pure shining adamantium the size of Wolverine’s Canadian skull.
So here is the theory in a nutshell: the ending isn’t real. It’s an attempt by the Reapers, specifically Harbinger, to manipulate Shepard, because Shepard has been indoctrinated. They are attempting to use a subtle means to steer their greatest enemy towards the goal they want. The ending is essentially a dream sequence, and the real ending will come out later, through DLC.
As Neo would say in this, and to be fair, every, situation: Whoa.
This has fucked with my head, to say the least. It’s made me look back at Mass Effect 3 and examine some of the little things in it, some things that were completely innocuous at the time, other things that struck me as a little off when they occurred. Everything. I’m going to try to organize this a bit. We’ll see. My brain is still scrambling furiously, you see.
Indoctrination: OK, first off, the idea that Shepard has been indoctrinated before ME3 starts: entirely possible. We’ve been told for years now that indoctrination is insidious, people hearing voices, guiding them subtly to achieve the Reapers’ ends. Merely being around Reapers and their artifacts is enough to do, as we’ve been shown a million times. Who in the galaxy has been around Reapers more than Shepard without becoming indoctrinated? Nobody. Shepard was inside a “dead” Reaper that wasn’t, reading the logs of those who were indoctrinated by it. Some of those logs talked about the dreams they were having, which will be relevant later. Shepard’s been around more Reaper artifacts than anyone who, again, isn’t already indoc’ed (tired of typing it out already). So the idea that Shepard has been somewhat affected isn’t just possible, at this point it’s likely.
The Kid: So if I look at the game like this, the first thing I notice that’s off happens early. Like, really early. When I played the demo, this part stood out to me because something seemed a little….off about it. I rationalized it away and didn’t think about it. See, after you escape the Reaper attack on the Alliance fleet council chamber thingy, you and Admiral Anderson start heading towards the Normandy. On the way, while Anderson is in another room, you hear a noise. You find a kid, the same kid you’d watched playing from your “cell” window earlier. Like any good person, you try to help the kid, and his answer is a little off-putting and strange.
“You can’t help me.”
I remember thinking how odd that answer was. Here, a scared kid, all alone, sees an adult while the kid is ostensibly scared and running for his life, and his response is… odd. Of course, after this is the heart-wrenching scene of the kid getting on the escape shuttle and taking off… only to get blown up by a Reaper. Looking back, I notice that no-one helps the kid onto the shuttle, no one reacts as if he is there at all. Is he?
From that point forward, the kid is a prominent and, again, odd part of the game. At various points in the game, you enter a weird dreamworld, where the kid is running through a ghostly, burned-out forest. You move in slow motion throughout while hearing the whispers of the last words said to you by people over the course of the game. The feeling is one of despair. You catch up to the kid, who bursts into flame each time. You can’t save him. I rationalized the dreams as just an expression of Shepard’s struggle internally, and as an atmospheric move. It’s the only time in the game where the fundamental gameplay is changed. I accept it completely. Hey, it’s a dream, right?
So, at the end of the game, you meet the AI that is behind the Reapers. What form does it take? Why, it is the Child you can’t save. Again, I rationalized this. The AI has plucked an image from my brain that I will accept and identify with. Now, typing this now makes me think I should’ve been like, “Hey, I’m obviously being manipulated here.” I didn’t. Why? More on that later.
The Dreamstate: OK, remember how I said the dream sequences play differently than the rest of the game? They are floaty and slow-motion, your HUD is gone, it’s different. So, at the end of the battle across Earth, you and the soldiers of Hammer are running like hell for the big beam of light, explosions all around. One happens right next to you. When you get up from it… you are playing in an exact duplicate of the dreamstate from before, floaty and slo-mo. Everything from there to the end of the game is in the same state. You aren’t even shown as actually getting into the beam of light; when you get close, the screen flashes white, and you are on the Citadel. I rationalized this away, of course. I’d just been blowed up. The game is heightening the atmospheric tension. I’ve been indoctrinated. Not Shepard. ME. More on that later.
Also, despite the fact that your comrades were all around you, when you enter the dreamstate, they are nowhere to be found. Anderson, who goes to the Citadel after you (he tells you this), ends up ahead of you and won’t wait for you. It’s all strange, seemingly plot-hole-ridden, and I’m still accepting it.
The End Sequence: OK, during the “ending”, you see Joker flying madly away from Earth, chased by the big-ass blast of energy that you’ve unleashed. The Normandy is caught in it and begins to break up, crashing on a strange planet. You see Joker and others disembark. Many have wondered what Joker was doing in flight; it makes no sense. I rationalized it thusly: after the Hammer assault, there would be no reason for the Normandy’s crew to sit on the planet, in hostile territory, in a forward base now emptied of soldiers. Of course they’d leave.
Two problems that now seem huge in retrospect:
1. The Normandy is being destroyed by the wave of energy. Why? No other ship (except Reapers) are affected. The Normandy, though, will clearly be destroyed.
2. The people who get off the ship. If you chose the Control or Synthesis endings, then you see Joker, EDI, and your love interest get off the ship. Destroy, though… since EDI was killed by your actions, you see Joker, then your love interest (probably Liara if you didn’t choose one, but I’m guessing), and the third person…well, for me it was Javik. Who was with me for the final push. I’ve watched other people’s endings. In every case, the person 3rd off the ship is someone they fought the final battle with. How did they get there?
Well, someone asked the Mass Effect Twitter feed, and here was their response (I got this from this article, which collects other cryptic notes from the devs):
User 7: “Its not that the ending was taken in the wrong direction its that it makes NO SENSE. Ashley was on the Normandy? she [was] with me.”
@masseffect: “Probably a good thing to be cautious of.”
Well. That’s indicative of something afoot.
Of course, you also have the part where the grandfather is talking to his kid, who wants more stories about the Shepard. “OK. Maybe one more.”
Something else: You are specifically told that Harbinger is the Reaper at the beam, trying to stop you. Why is it explicitly mentioned which Reaper it is? It just happens to be the one that you’ve encountered most, besides the now-dead Sovereign. Described as one of the Oldest Reapers. Maybe even the oldest of them all. Hmmm.
Then, finally, the part that can only be seen if you chose Destroy and played multiplayer to increase your Army Points or whatever they were called. You see rubble, someone in an N7 suit of armor lying in it, and a gasp of breath. It’s Shepard (not definitively, but suggested). You survived the Citadel’s destruction! Or did you?
Because that rubble looks a hell of a lot like Earth just before your dream sequence.
We’re Indoctrinated: I don’t mean Shepard. Us. Game players, and players of Mass Effect. First off, when you buy a game, that game is a complete package, beginning and end. No one in a million years would think that you’d buy a game and NOT GET THE END. We don’t think it’s possible. We’ve been indoc’ed that it just doesn’t work that way. The idea of a true ending coming out later? Come on. We know better.
Secondly, as Mass Effect players, we’ve been indoctrinated by color. Blue is Good. Red is Bad. Despite being told that Renegades aren’t bad, just bold lone-wolf types, we clearly associated them as good and bad. If you’re a Renegade, your skin cracks and glows red. You don’t look like a loner. You look like a fucking demon. Blue Good, Red Bad, Tree Pretty. So when we’re given our three choices at the end, why, looky here. They are color coded. Control Blue. The Good Color. Shown as being performed by the Illusive Man, who is obviously not a Paragon. Red is Destroy, such a MEAN thing to do, but it shown as being done by Anderson, clearly a Paragon. And the middle choice. Ahh. Peaceful Green. You only get this choice if you worked hard and amassed enough points. This, then is the true way: a blending of synthetic and organic in peace and harmony. No more war. We are told by the Child AI that this is the next step of evolution. You merely need to sacrifice yourself to do it. Well, we’ve been taught all along that the game is about Sacrifice. The third choice has to be a reward for playing well.
Of course, blending the synthetics and organics into one sure sounds like the Reaper Way, when you think about it. And the AI behind the Reapers clearly thinks it’s the best way.
When I first did it, I chose Blue and Control. Why? For a myriad of reasons, but one of them was this, and it’s a simple one: It was Blue. It was obviously Good, despite everything. I’ve been manipulated. Not Shepard. ME. Clever.
Conclusion: So, is this all just smoke, the manifestation of wishful thinking by a huge group of disappointed gamers? I don’t know. But I believe it is true. BioWare has always set out to make Mass Effect different. The idea of importing saved games from one installment to another was revolutionary. Their creative team has created the best game experience I’ve ever played. Would they have just started writing shit, ridden with plot holes and inconsistency? It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But we, as gamers, are quick to lash out. It’s EA’s fault! They ruin everything. We’re indoctrinated, every one of us.
I want this to be true. I believe that it is true. And if it isn’t, and I’m an executive at BioWare who thought the ending was hunky-dorry, I am getting the creative team together right fucking now, and I am making this cockamamie conspiracy theory come true. This whole thing is a marketing dream – look at the free publicity and hubbub. This kind of move can only be done once, and right now BioWare has carte blanche to do it. I think it happens. I think it HAS to happen.
I want to believe.
How about you?