Monday, March 26, 2012

Dissecting Indoctrination Theory (Mass Effect 3)

              I apologize, but I have to do another Mass Effect 3 blog post.  In my defense, I’ve never really seen a video game generate so much internet buzz about its ending, meaning, and possible alteration.  One headline fittingly was titled “Mass Hysteria,” and that’s not far from the truth.  As an avid Mass Effect gamer, I’m feeling the need to jump into the internet community fray once again.  So for those of you who care not about video games and/or Mass Effect, again, I firmly expect you to not read another sentence of this essay.  For those of you who do love Mass Effect, yet haven’t completed the trilogy yet, read at your own risk because there will be numerous spoilers.  Now that I’ve gotten my disclaimer out of the way, let us begin our journey.

 While I’m mostly a firm supporter (see my earlier post) of Mass Effect 3 in its entirety (including its ending), a decent sized sect of gamers have developed what’s known as “Indoctrination Theory” to explain the overall meaning of Mass Effect 3’s (ME3) ending.  While this theory is extremely interesting (don’t get me wrong, if it were true, I think that it would be amazing), there are too many holes in it to hold any water.  I’ve always been one to be cautious about looking too deeply into any work (mainly books or short stories), because often people start to find symbology that simply doesn’t exist.  My feeling is that Indoctrination Theory runs along the same vein; while it’s certainly been very insightfully thought out, it appears that fans are placing symbols into the game that just aren’t there. 

In order to dissect Indoctrination Theory, I’m going to go through two mostly well thought out illustrations of it. The first is from internet reviewer Angry Joe, who posted a very well researched video here on why Indoctrination Theory makes sense.  I am going to draw much of my counterargument from this video, as it is a fairly comprehensive view of Indoctrination theory.  You’re going to want to open the video link in a separate tab because I’ll be going through it point by point and making my rebuttals.  Once I’m done going through this video, I will turn to a fan generated Google document that is said to be a logical breakdown of why the ME3 ending makes no sense (and in turn argues that the final sequence is in Shepard’s mind – Indoctrination Theory).  I can’t post link to it because it’s constantly being edited, so just do a web search of “A Logical Breakdown of Why the Mass Effect 3 Ending Makes No Sense,” and it should be one of the first options you can click on (yes, that’s also the title, so just look for the article with that heading).  Once I finish with both pieces, it should be fairly apparent that Indoctrination Theory has very little empirical value and should be regarded as such.

Ok, starting off.  I want to point out that during the 1 minute 12 second mark of the video, Angry Joe plays a clip where the dialogue says “Organics undergoing Indoctrination may complain of headaches…” while showing Shepard seemingly grabbing his head in pain.  This clip is from a separate video trying to validate the theory, but they’re using a little cinematography magic on you.  Shepard grabbing his head in that scene is clearly and explicitly the result of the Illusive Man controlling Shepard, not the Reapers.  Now, on to Angry Joe’s 10 points.

1.       The Child.   This is admittedly one of my weak points and anyone who discovers a way to accurately depict exactly what the child means will have a huge leg up on explaining the ending.  Angry Joe states in the video clip that no one can see the child.  This is merely conjecture.  Because no one in the initial clip takes notice of the child does not mean that no one can see him.  Consider the context.  The child is on his own so no one is looking out for him or looking for him.  Second, a Reaper lands about a 100 yards away from the shuttle; the soldiers in the clip at that point are more concerned with surviving and protecting the shuttle than looking for civilians.  Third, the person loaded into the shuttle before the child boards a good while before the child boards.  Why doesn’t the shuttle door shut then?  Notice that the door shuts promptly after the child boards, the last remaining civilian.  Do not mistake that no one reacting specifically to the child is a sign that no one can see him.  This is important because the child is a key piece of Indoctrination Theory.  Theorists are able to use the child as a symbol for a lot of what Shepard sees and goes through.  As far as the child running into the building and surviving a Reaper blast, I again have to disagree with Angry Joe.  First, the building is not fully engulfed in flames as Joe suggests.  I would argue that perhaps if the child made it into the building and into the air duct (in which you find him a short time later), there’s a small chance he would survive the Reaper beam.  If a grenade or bomb were to go off in that same building, I would guess that the safest place to be would be the air duct as it offers the best chance of survival.  Moving on, Angry Joe then describes the Reaper growl that occurs when Anderson interrupts Shepard while he’s talking with the boy.  People are reading too much into this.  There are multiple Reapers in close proximity to Shepard’s location, and they make that noise frequently (there are plenty of Reaper growls during the opening sequence while Shepard and Anderson run across buildings).  This is simply a Reaper outside the building making its distinctive sound.  Next, Joe explains that Anderson should see the child when Shepard is talking with him.  False, the child is deep in an air duct and can only be seen from a head on point of view.  Anderson never has this vantage point, he’s off to the side.  Did he hear the child?  Maybe and maybe not.  Who’s to say Anderson didn’t hear the child and chose to press on?  People forget that the point of that current mission was to get to the Normandy as fast as possible before the Reapers noticed it and could cut it out of the sky.  Just because Anderson does not acknowledge the child does not mean he cannot see or hear him!

2.       Dream Sequences.  With this point, Angry Joe asserts that Shepard’s dream sequences are actually Reaper projections.  Major supporting points for this are the “oily projections” within the dream that harken to the projections mentioned by the Rachni Queen in Mass Effect 1.  The increasing amount of these projections throughout the game is depicted as an increasing amount of Reaper control over Shepard.   However, in actuality the projections in the dreams merely are a representation of the lives that have been lost during the Reaper war.  This is particularly easy to see when you play through the game multiple times and have different characters die.  As a paragon, I lost very little of my accomplices and noticed really nothing significant about the dreams.  However, when I played as a renegade and lost Samara, Wrex, and Miranda, I could hear their voices during the dream sequences (after they died).  In short, the shadows are those of the dead; the significance of the child is simply that Shepard took his death very hard, and it’s been haunting him ever since.  The slow motion theory is dismissed easily.  The purpose of the dream sequences is that no matter how hard Shepard tries, he can’t save the child (meaning he can only run slowly while the child is moving in regular speed).  Shepard’s slow motion movement after the Reaper beam blast is simply a cinematographic effect, similar to that of bullet time in Max Payne.  It is being used at that moment to highlight Shepard’s pure focus on the beam and lack of sensation to everything else.  Also, saying that there are trees from Shepard’s dreams all around the Citadel Beam is again conjecture.  What do you expect trees to look like in that setting?  Were you expecting 20 foot conifers?  Perhaps you thought a lush forest of Dutch Elms would be present after Harbinger tore the area to shreds.  No, the trees in that sequence are insignificant.  Just because the ones near the Citadel Beam are bare does not mean they are the same objects that appear in Shepard’s dreams.  Lastly, the image of dream Shepard and the kid burning.  I would argue that the kid in Shepard’s dreams represents earth, and following him does represent Shepard’s demise.  There’s nothing fluky about this.  Going back to earth does result in Shepard’s death (in all but a very few possible endings). 

3.       The Normandy. I have no defense for this point.  There is simply no explanation as to how your squad mates end up back on the Normandy.  Angry Joe wins this round, as perhaps a hallucination is the only plausible explanation here.

4.       Harbinger’s Beam.  As far as Indoctrination Theory goes, this may be my strongest disagreement with it.  There is nothing strange about the radio chatter saying the entire Hammer force was wiped out.  As things progress, you find that only Shepard and Anderson make it to the beam.  Hammer (Allied force charged with making it to the Citadel Beam) was not a 12 person ground force.  It was a huge ground strike battalion.  To think that ships high in orbit or recon teams based far away would be able to spot two people moving when Harbinger absolutely laid waste to an entire strike force is silly.  In the first place, anyone close enough to spot them would probably have been fried by Harbinger previously, so no Allies had good eyes on the scene.  You have to remember that these are two relatively small individuals moving in a fairly large area.  As for the people crawling around, as gamers, we see exactly one person crawling, that’s it.  Why does Harbinger leave?  Well, he just annihilated an entire strike squad.  People are quick to assume Shepard gets hit by Harbinger and just pops back up, but in reality, we have no clue how long he’s knocked out.  Harbinger could have spent his time eviscerating Allied forces, saw no one moving, and left, because let’s face it, Hammer was the threat, and he just decimated them.  Harbinger leaves Shepard for the same reason the Allies don’t notice him, he’s a small item in a large field of battle.  Also, notice that Shepard is still lying down when Harbinger leaves.  Why would Harbinger assume Shepard’s alive?  He wouldn’t, and that’s why he bails out.  Angry Joe also points out the unlimited pistol ammo.  You can make a weak case here for Indoctrination Theory, but going with simple reasoning, you realize that this is an end-of-game sequence.  This isn’t the first game to have an ending where the main protagonist all of the sudden has unlimited ammo or increased reaction time.  People are delving way too far into this abnormality.  At that point in the game, ammo is irrelevant; Bioware just wants to move you through the story and not piss you off by running you out of ammunition.  Moving on to Hackett contacting Shepard via radio.  Angry Joe states, “…you would think that with Shepard’s armor burned off in layers that the radio would be damaged as well.”  Unfortunately, Angry Joe doesn’t have the facts to back this assertion.  Unless anyone is withholding information on us, we don’t really know how the radios in Mass Effect work; there’s never been a tutorial on their functionality and what causes them to fizzle out.  This is just another example of an indoctrination theorist trying to see more than what’s actually there.  No one has any idea as to how the radios work, except Bioware.  And lastly, as for how Hackett knows Shepard’s alive on the citadel, he doesn’t, but this is where the theorists run into a major hole that they always fail to mention.  THE CITADEL ARMS OPENED!!!  We (and the Allies) know that the Reapers would not open the arms of the Citadel, so if I were Hackett and I saw the arms open, it would be logical to assume that one of my people made it up there.  Now, who knows how many people Hackett tried through the radio; 5, 10, 50, 100?  No one knows.  It is however, fair to guess that since Shepard is the main character of the series, and that’s he’s survived countless suicide or death-defying encounters, that if anyone made it, it was him.  Notice that Hackett doesn’t call for Anderson; he has no idea who’s up there.

5.       Anderson and Illusive Man on the Citadel. How is Anderson able to beat Shepard to the console?  Well, Anderson himself explains that they came out in different spots via the Citadel beam.  With this, anything is possible, no one has a clue where Anderson came out.  How is Illusive Man able to sneak up behind Shepard?  He’s been on the Citadel for awhile, ever since the Cronos Base mission.  Who knows what nooks and crannies he’s found to wait at.  Angry Joe then states that Shepard would never ask Anderson if he’s up on the Citadel based on what he heard earlier “the whole squad was decimated.”  However, this is based on the assumption that whoever was on the radio was right.  Obviously, they weren’t, because Shepard was still alive and kicking.  They clearly missed two people, and Shepard, being intelligent, can guess this.  Joe’s next reasoning is that Anderson should have caught up with or passed Shepard when Shepard was hit by Harbinger’s beam.  Again, this is filled with holes, ones that Joe should see since he’s used it already.  Harbinger apparently wiped out the entire ground force, meaning Anderson should have been hit as well.  It’s very safe to assume that both Shepard and Anderson were knocked out by Harbinger’s beam and recovered in a similar time frame.  This is why Anderson had to follow Shepard up the beam.  One blatant mistruth Angry Joe gives is that Anderson is “unscathed when you see him.”  False false false.  Anderson very clearly has bruising on his face similar to the ones Shepard has.  I will easily concede to Joe the point that if you let the Illusive Man kill Shepard, he then pays no attention to the console.  This is either lack of oversight by Bioware, or it actually means something.  This is one small thread the indoctrination theorists can hold on to.  Next Angry Joe moves onto one of my favorite misleading points.  He, along with others, argue that when Shepard shoots Anderson, the wound translates back onto Shepard, and this is why he’s clutching his left side and why his left arm is covered in blood.  First, to Angry Joe, who says there is clearly a bullet hole, that is total BS.  There is no discernible bullet hole to be seen on Shepard.  Second, no one seems to mention that Shepard’s right arm is also covered in fresh blood.  Why is this?  At this point in the end sequence, it seems that Bioware wanted to establish that Shepard was suffering from grave injuries that he sustained from Harbinger’s laser.  This is further demonstrated by Shepard blacking out while crawling to the console, he’s dying from wounds suffered earlier.  How else do you explain the “fresh blood” on Shepard’s right arm?

6.       The Illusive Man’s Unexplained Powers. This point is nearly too poor for me to even bother with.  During the game, it is VERY very clearly explained that the Illusive Man is working to unlock the secret and power of indoctrination.  It’s also explained that he succeeded in figuring out the secret at Sanctuary.  Then it’s even further shown (if you watch the video logs on Cronos Base) that the Illusive Man is implanted with Reaper tech that allows him to mimic the power of indoctrination.  This is the crux of his entire plan to control the Reapers.  Anyone who does not understand how he is able to control Anderson and Shepard and why he does it missed very critical portions of the game.

7.       God Child Makes No Sense & Lies to You. This is a little bit of hipster argument.  What exactly is it about what God Child says that makes no sense?  Why doesn’t he get rid of synthetics?  That question is answered throughout all 3 games, especially in ME3 on Rannoch.  The Reaper that Shepard brings down explains to him that synthetics are order and organics are chaos.  As far as the Reapers bringing the Citadel to Earth, that is because Earth was a major Reaper hub where they could provide substantial orbital protection.  Angry Joe makes a comment about why there is color coding within the Citadel and Crucible, but doesn’t support why this doesn’t make sense?  I guess if you expect everything to be opaque and colorless, you’d have an argument here, but that’s not the way it works.  Building on that, Angry Joe lies to you in trying to explain that God Child lies to you.  He says that God Child explains that Shepard will die if he chooses the destroy option because he’s partly synthetic.  Watch the clip, God Child never once utters that Shepard will die for that reason.  Next, a quote “why then do you wake up back on Earth?”  There isn’t any conclusive evidence that Shepard wakes up back on Earth.

8.       Shepard’s Eyes.   Before I get into this, I want to point out a segment in the video that says in subtitles that Shepard is no longer limping when he chooses the destroy because he has chosen correctly (fought indoctrination), yet, six seconds later Shepard is shown running (no limp) when choosing the synthesis option (which would be incorrect according to indoctrination theorists).  No mention of this is made.  On to Shepard’s eyes.  Angry Joe states that choosing the blue beam (control) or the green beam (synthesis) results in Shepard’s skin dissolving and looking like skin similar to that of a husk.  What he fails to mention, is that in both of those scenarios, Shepard’s body is consumed by beams of pure energy (let’s call them plasma), which I would guess would burn Shepard to a crisp.  It’s not a husk that Shepard resembles, but rather someone who was just burned alive.  Joe’s next point is that Shepard’s eyes have “indoctrination glow” if he chooses the control or synthesis options.  This is an exaggeration.  Shepard has what I would describe as brilliant blue eyes.  In the video clip, his eyes don’t change color at all.  They’re highlighted in the control and synthesis options because his body has been burned to a crisp and is devoid of color.  In the destroy option, his eyes are not highlighted because he isn’t being engulfed in a wave of plasma.

9.       The Breathing Scene.  This is another rare scenario where I have little defense.  While there’s no clear evidence that Shepard is on Earth when he takes his breath, it highly unlikely that he’d survive a fall from the Citadel onto Earth.  This is another argument where I give indoctrination theorists a win. 

10.   Bioware Themselves.   With his last argument, Angry Joe asserts that Bioware hints and subtly confirms Indoctrination Theory through social media.  His first point is that Bioware has stated that there will be upcoming DLC.  As usual, this is another jump to conclusions assumption.  Just because there’s additional DLC, does not mean that Shepard was indoctrinated.  Angry Joe then shows a number of Bioware staffers’ twitter posts alluding to additional DLC coming with dramatic music playing in the background.  Yes, this would point to an epilogue of some sort, but what does this have to do with Indoctrination Theory?  Just because Bioware has posted a bunch of tweets alluding to more content expanding on the ending, it does not mean that the final sequence was concretely Shepard fighting Indoctrination.  Trying to prove Indoctrination Theory with vague Bioware tweets is right up there with not understanding how the Illusive Man controls Anderson and Shepard.

That is the end of Angry Joe’s list, and the he goes on to explain some of the counterpoints to Indoctrination theory, which I appreciate.  However, one statement he makes shortly thereafter is, “…reasons on this list may have solid counterarguments, but to deny all of them, especially when it seems that there’s a clear pattern,” (emphasis added).  As I’ve gone through Angry Joe’s video point by point, there is absolutely no pattern established by Indoctrination Theory that can’t fairly easily be thrown into doubt.  Yes, there are a couple of points that are incredibly difficult to explain, but to come out and say that clearly there’s a pattern here is lazy.

Now I’m moving on to the fan made Google page (again, just use the web search I posted at the top of this essay).  I’m not going to go through it point by point because A.) it would take far too long and B.) many of the points in the document overlap with what I’ve already tackled in Angry Joe’s video.  To gather the overall essence of the Google Document (GD), I would say that it’s like someone trying to work out a geometry proof by using theorems and postulates that aren’t true.  Often times, indoctrination theorists make one critical assumption (and swear by that assumption), and off of this they compile a long list of supporting notes.  However, these supporting notes usually carry no weight because the assumption they made earlier is incorrect.  This plagues the vast majority of Indoctrination Theory, and I’ll hit some of the more egregious errors in the upcoming paragraphs.

To start off, the GD begins by going over the scene near the Citadel Beam, particularly the part where the Allies announce that the entire force was decimated even though Shepard and Anderson make it to the beam.  To quote GD, “Why would Bioware choose to include these lines if they weren’t true?”  The answer is for effect.  Have you never seen a movie where the main protagonist or group of protagonists were presumed dead only to have actually survived and end up saving the day?  Think of when Aragorn “dies” in the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  Multiple people say he’s dead after falling off a cliff, but he actually lives through it and ends up saving a stronghold by giving them advance warning of an invasion.  Why would the writers and director include the lines about him being dead if they weren’t true?  For cinematic and dramatic effect!

Moving on GD indicates that there is no reason for Shepard to be knocked out by Harbinger’s beam, saying if Bioware meant for him to make it to the Citadel, he should have just made it in one go.  Again, I quote, “Mass Effect is not a series about superheroes or magical coincidences.  If Shepard reaching the beam was a long shot, they wouldn’t make it an even longer to the point of being ridiculous by choosing to arbitrarily include an event that makes the story nigh-impossible.”  This couldn’t be farther from correct.  Mass Effect absolutely is a series that includes a modern day “super” hero and many coincidences.  Don’t believe me, let me run down a laundry list of them that come off the top of my head right now:  1.) Shepard is the only person in his unit to escape from Acuz.  2.) Shepard is somehow not killed by interaction with a Prothean beacon.  3.) Shepard is the first human Spectre. 4.) Shepard can receive the Prothean Cipher. 5.) With the entire 5th fleet firing upon Sovereign with everything they have, it is Joker’s lone torpedo run that causes Sovereign to explode. 6.) The long-believed mythical things known as Reapers are actually real. 7.) Cerberus somehow manages to rebuild and bring back to life Shepard after he lost air and free fell from OUTER SPACE onto a planet with just his armor, Shepard comes back to life as good as ever. 8.) Harbinger, lord of the Reapers, takes special interest in Shepard. 9.) Mordin somehow develops a method of repelling the Collector Swarms that no one could ever do before. 10.) Joker manages to pilot the Normandy through a ridiculous field of debris after traveling through the Omega 4 relay. 11.) Shepard brings down a human Reaper with small firearms. 12.) Shepard and his crew manage to get in and out of the Collector base without casualties, dubbed a “suicide mission.” 13.) Shepard cures the Genophage. 14.) Shepard manages to unite Turians and Krogan.  15.) Shepard takes down a Reaper on his own with a targeting laser. 16.) Shepard enters the Geth consciousness. 17.) Shepard puts a Reaper down with only two missiles.  18.)  Shepard brings an entire galaxy together to fight the Reapers.  These are 18 examples of extreme coincidence combined with what I would label fairly superhuman behavior on Shepard’s part, but no, according to GD, that’s not at all what the Mass Effect series is about.  Get real.

Further down, GD mentions that it’s strange for Shepard’s armor to be burned and his helmet blown off.  Another stellar quote, “The armor on Shepard’s back is completely burned out but her helmet-less head is mysteriously untouched.”  What game was the writer playing here?  Did he/she not notice the massive bruises and cuts littered across Shepard’s face?

After that, the article wonders why Shepard blacked out after traveling up the Citadel beam.  It could certainly be because he was just beamed from planet earth all the way up to space in the Citadel.  No one really knows how turbulent of a journey this was for Shepard.  Also, does no one think that maybe it’s because Shepard is suffering from mortal injuries at the time and losing blood that he blacks out?  This seems less like a way of showing Shepard is dreaming and more like a way of showing that Shepard is seriously injured.

Now I want to talk about the Citadel sequence where Anderson and Shepard make their way to the console.  GD makes a firm point here, “Since we’ve established there is only ONE such dark hallway, Anderson absolutely must have ‘come out in the same place’.  When he states he’s in a dark hallway, it’s the ONLY dark hallway – therefore he must be in the same place as Shepard.  Yet they never see each other.  Even more strange is that Anderson proceeds alone instead of making any attempt whatsoever to regroup with Shepard.  This is not how rational people think…”  This quotation is a classic example of an indoctrination theorist building a multitude of evidence on the basis of an assumption that hasn’t been proven true.  Let’s break it down.  1.) “Since we’ve established there is only ONE such dark hallway…”  This absolutely has NOT been established.  GD’s reasoning that there is only one such hallway is that all you can see from Shepard’s point of view is the one hall.  Unfortunately, as Shepard we do not get to traverse the entire Citadel which is God-knows-how-many-times-bigger than Shepard.  Do people not think that with all that area, there could possibly be another hallway? Or three?  Or three thousand?  Just because we specifically can’t see any more with from strictly Shepard’s point of view, does not automatically disqualify any more from existing.  2.) “Anderson absolutely must have ‘come out in the same place’.”  This is easily debunked now that we have no clue how many hallways and rooms there are in the Citadel, or where the beam transports people to.  3.) “Even more strange is that Anderson proceeds alone instead of making any attempt whatsoever to regroup with Shepard.  This is not how rational people think.”  This argument actually works against GD.  We have every right to think that Anderson would act rationally, as he has for the entire series.  It would make sense that he did check around for Shepard, or anyone for that matter.  The fact that he doesn’t find Shepard lends support to the statement that they came out in different places. 

GD then continues with several points disputing comments that Anderson makes, explaining that they cannot be true due to spatial reasons.  This entire line of reasoning is predicated on the assertion that Anderson and Shepard came out in the same place.  However, since we’ve established that it is certainly possible, even likely, that they did not come out in the same place, the reader has no choice to disregard that entire section of GD because it’s purely unsupported speculation.  My favorite part of that section is near the end though, because it offers up the counterargument that Anderson could make it to the console via an alternate path.  Then GD goes on, “The problem with this idea is that it’s completely unnecessary.” This is how GD chooses to rebuke a counter to Indoctrination Theory?  That something is just “completely unnecessary?”  That’s lazy arguing.  There were plenty of events that were unnecessary in the Mass Effect series, and cutting them all out would probably cut the game time by a third.  Again, there is something to be said for cinematic and dramatic effect here.

I’m again going to touch on the Illusive Man’s power to control Shepard and Anderson because GD takes this section of the game as one of its critical points (it’s highlighted in red, you know it’s important).  Apparently, when Illusive Man says “Look at the power they wield!  Look at what the can do!” while clenching his fist and making Shepard shoot Anderson, this is actually the Reapers’ doing, not Illusive Man’s.  I cannot stress this enough, the game made it explicitly clear that Illusive Man studied AND discovered the secret as to how the Reapers control other beings!  Again, there is even a video showing Illusive Man about to get the implants to harness this power.  For some reason GD is hung up on assuming that Shepard or Anderson has to have a control chip implanted in their bodies in order for Illusive Man to control them.  Why is a chip a prerequisite to control?  The Reapers do not use control chips when indoctrinating individuals, why should the Illusive Man?  The entire point of his research base was to figure out a way to control people and the Reapers without using a control chip, and it’s apparent he has mastered this in the Citadel.  The Illusive Man using the pronoun “they” is more about holding the Reapers’ power in awe, especially now that he’s harnessed it, nothing more.  And for those of you who think the Reaper growls and black wispy threads are anything BUT Illusive Man, chew on these observations.  They first appear when Illusive Man appears (because he is the one in control).  They disappear when Illusive Man dies (no one is controlling anyone anymore).  They are never seen or heard from again, which is strange considering that Shepard is supposedly indoctrinated by Reapers the entire time.  Seems odd that they only come and go with the Illusive Man, unless it’s the Illusive Man ONLY that’s exerting a form of control.

I’m going to largely skip over the sequence dealing with God Child.  This is mostly because it gets fairly geeky and technical and really feels like a situation where GD can’t see the forest through the trees.  Yes, there are good points made, but they mostly deal with contradictions within the overall story plot and don’t really support Indoctrination Theory at all. There are a lot of facts showing plot holes, but none providing support of indoctrination.  There are a few areas I want to touch on though.  1.) “What was the purpose of Sovereign needing to manually travel into the galaxy to deliver the signal to open the Citadel Mass Relay to the Keepers?  The Citadel is part of the Child, so he should be able to open it himself.”  It seems fairly clear that God Child cannot directly interact with our physical world, or else he would have done so, it is why he makes Shepard make the final choice.  Secondly, Vigil clearly explained on Illos that the Keepers evolved over time and no longer responded to the original signal, ergo Sovereign’s need to travel.  2.) “Shepard alone killed 3 Reapers.” (not superhuman at all, right?).  This quote is used as support for saying the Reapers don’t make sense because their method of preserving and harvesting life into new Reapers is inefficient.  Let it be known though that no one has been as successful against the Reapers as Shepard has been.  It is likely that he’s single-handedly been responsible for more Reaper destruction than countless cycles before him combined.  3.) Why would the Reapers use the Collectors to harvest humans if they could just do it themselves?  The answer to this question is secrecy.  By using the Collectors, the Reapers are able to keep the galaxy divided.  No one believes Shepard that the Reapers are coming.  It is only when they invade en masse that the galaxy unites and they’re ultimately defeated.  They didn’t risk defeat by using the Collectors, and had Shepard (who’s definitely not a superhero of any type, right GD?) not been around, they probably would have gone on to victory unchecked. 

Farther down the GD, a point is made about Shepard’s eyes looking like Illusive Man’s after choosing control or synthesize.  I’ve already pointed out some inadequacies with that theory but came across something even more damning.  In the ME2 Arrival DLC, Dr. Kenson is clearly indoctrinated.  Does anyone remember what color her eyes turn?  Yellow, not blue, and there is definitely no sign of two orbs near her pupils.  This is clear proof that there isn’t a specific eye color that someone must have while indoctrinated. 

Indoctrination Theory has many many holes.  Too much of it has basis in assertions that have no backing, which then build into even more assumptions with no base.  When take it bit by bit, it’s fairly easy to make the entire Indoctrination Theory crumble.  That being said, there are some definite, critical holes and curiosities in the plot to make people start to wonder exactly what the hell happened.  I suspect this is how Indoctrination Theory was born.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of the theory, and I dearly hope it’s true (how effing sweet would that be?).  There just needs to be some actual evidence that supports it instead of just saying the ending is crazy so it must be a dream.  Here are a few points that if anyone could definitively explain with proof, would be HUGE as far as explaining the game’s plot/end.

1.)     The Boy – Is he real or fake?  What concrete proof do you have of this?  How does the real-life boy tie in with God Child?  There’s no question that the boy plays a fairly large role (for a non-playable character) in ME3.  Is he just simply someone who died that weighs on Shepard’s mind, or is he something much bigger?

2.)    The Normandy – Prove to me (and everyone else) what happened with the Normandy.  How did your crew get back on?  Where are they flying to?  Where did they land?  I strongly suspect that we’re going to find out a lot more about the events surrounding your ship when the DLC hits.  Until then, it looks like we have to wait.

3.)    Where is Shepard – When he takes his last breath, where exactly is he?  If he was on the Citadel, it’s hard to imagine that he was able to survive a fall back to Earth (even though this is the same guy who has already survived one fall from outer space onto a planet). 
         I have one final point to make about Indoctrination Theory.  If the ending sequence is indeed entirely in Shepard’s mind, then what does that mean for the ending?  After he makes his choice, how does it influence the Reaper invasion?  Do they go away?  Do they kill everyone anyway?  There doesn’t seem to be an endgame that fits if the entire ending segment played out as a hallucination or a dream.  I guess all we can do is wait for Bioware to release the DLC we’ve all been anticipating.  When they do, shit will finally hit the fan and hopefully we can settle all debates.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Defending Mass Effect 3 (and 2)

I need to begin this blog post with a few disclaimers.  First, this is a post about the video game series of Mass Effect.  Basically what I’m saying is that for those of you who aren’t gamers or don’t specifically play Mass Effect, you’re more than welcome to disregard this post.  Second, for those of you who do play Mass Effect and haven’t finished the trilogy, this is going to contain unadulterated spoilers, on all three games.  If you don’t want to learn anything new that you don’t want to, I’d stop reading now.  Lastly, I promise not to do more posts about video games, but I am compelled to do this one because of a public outcry against one of the greatest games of all time, Mass Effect 3, which is part of the greatest video game trilogy of all time.  I have to defend the defenseless.  Ok, that’s all, on to the nerd-fest.

Mass Effect 3 (ME3) was released earlier this month carrying gargantuan expectations in the video game landscape.  It was an easy early entry for game of the year and arguably in the running for greatest game of all time even before its release.  As fans plowed through ME3 feverishly, the trilogy’s finale forced people to make gut-wrenching choices, tied up loose ends, and put into motion events that would definitively end the series.  As per usual though, there were the detractors.  Those that decried how the Reaper crisis was resolved.  Usually, it wouldn’t bother me that people bash something I thoroughly enjoy.  However, the masses that have gathered are taking this to new heights.  They’ve asked the game’s developers, Bioware, to rewrite the ending, creating a group (Retake Mass Effect) while spreading a petition in the hopes that Bioware will cave. 

I’ve been reading the growing amount of complaints (which has also spread to Mass Effect 2) on internet message boards and articles while feeling a desire to write a defense, but never sensing a true burn to do so, until I read this article, depicting the extreme measures some protestors are going to.  Now I feel like I have to take a stand, in which I’ll be going through the most prominent points of malcontent, and making a defense, hopefully enlightening those with pessimistic views and quelling their words of dissent.

·         First, I’ve been seeing a lot of the rating game, meaning, people doing this on message boards, “ME1>ME3>ME2 (or some variant of that).  Or else saying something like “I like the gameplay of ME2 but the story of ME1 was way better.”  I actually have no issue with rating each game against each other.  I myself have been torn between whether ME2 or ME3 is better (sorry ME1 fans).  The problem is that not a ton of care is taken by the people spewing these ratings, which leads to fruitless name calling.  For example, someone who rates ME3 highly will not articulate his/her point clearly enough, which inevitably leads to someone responding with “you’re a moron if you think this about that game or such-and-such.”  People, you’re misconstruing statements.  I personally happen to think that ME2 and ME3 are at a near tie for the best in the series (still working it out) and that ME1 trails both of them by a fairly decent margin.  However, THIS DOESN’T’ MEAN I THINK ME1 IS A CRAPPY GAME!  On the contrary, ME1 is a fantastic game that’s probably better than 98% of anything I’ve played.  I don’t hate ME1 at all, it was just improved upon greatly by its successors.  I become weary reading Mass Effect forums because they often turn into pissing contests over who can deliver the best slam on someone who posted something he/she didn’t like.  I want to read a good, thought-provoking message tree, not an elementary name calling contest.

·         The ending of ME3.  This is easily the most frequent and largest complaint about ME3, and when I beat the game the first time, I was initially right there with them.  After some reflection though (as well as reading about exactly what the endings mean on the internet), I decided that the ending was fair.  No, it wasn’t the greatest ending ever, and yes, there are things I would have done differently, but I certainly don’t feel cheated by Bioware.  For those that complain about lack of closure, I disagree with you.  It’s more of a lack of detail.  I’m still not sure where the final landing spot of the Normandy is, and I don’t know which one of your squad members survive. (you would think the two with you on the Citadel Beam charge die, but I’ve seen them alive in the end sequence, so I presume everyone lives).  On the other hand, a lot of what happens in the end is quite final, and there really isn’t that much in question about what happens.  To me, it just seems like a lot of people wanted a very specific type of ending and they weren’t rewarded with it, so now they’re bitching about it.  I actually sort of credit Bioware here.  I believe that they created a product that was able to so deeply ensnare fans, that when the ending didn’t go exactly the way they wanted, they went nuclear.  If the games were just average, I doubt most people would care about how it ended, but since Bioware created three phenomenal games, anything short of anyone’s expectations was a shock to the system. 

·         Bioware went too far away from an RPG and created a cover-based shooter instead.  This may be the complaint I take the biggest issue with.  Fans speak of ME1 like it was some holy grail of RPG-ness.  It wasn’t.  The Mass Effect series is an action RPG series, and always has been.  Diehards talk about ME1 like it was some sort of free roam sandbox RPG and it just wasn’t.  The missions centered around combat gameplay (gameplay which is by all means very good, but is downright sloppy when compared with ME2 or ME3).  ME1 wasn’t anything like a true RPG (think Final Fantasy VII).  Yes, there are portions where you can drive around in the Mako on a fairly undeveloped planet and maybe find a base that has one of 4 generic layouts, but that’s it.  As far as weapon customization, yes, you can upgrade your weapons, but the process was way to repetitive and tedious.  What made ME2 so beautiful was that they A.) made side quests take place in much more diverse and unique areas instead of the 4 generic bases and B.) streamlined the tedious crap that filled ME1.  I can’t tell you how frustrated I was in ME1 trying to navigate that damn Mako up some ridiculous mountain range to find an artifact or base which I hoped might be useful.  Or how about having to dump 25 items out of my inventory after each mission halfway through the game because I picked up so many meaningless (by that point) upgrades.  I would totally agree with protestors on this point if it made sense, but honestly, When Bioware streamlined ME2, they did it by taking out parts of ME1 that simply just weren’t fun.

·         Hipster talk about ME1.  This one really bothers me because it labels people who either A.) like ME2 and ME3 better than ME1 or B.) have only played ME2 and ME3 (ME1 was never released on PS3) as morons who don’t “get” the series, have artistic expression, or understand what a story is supposed to be.   For some reason, there is a sect of Mass Effect fans that believe it’s “cool” to think ME1 is the king of the series.  They don’t really have a solid reason, other than that it’s the original.  Two quotes I read on a forum help explain this.  “If you like ME2 or ME3 better than ME1, then you own a PS3 and have never played ME1.”  And, “I’m a writer and the story in ME2 and ME3 just showed how lazy the writing became after the first game.”  These arguments are right up there with someone thinking it’s cool to post “first” in the comments section of an online article.  They’re standout statements that have no support facts or opinions backing them.  I’ve played all 3 games and I happen to think ME1 is the least of the 3, but I do not own a PS3, I just simply see the improvements that were made along the way.

·         The story of ME1 was the best by far.  A lot, and I mean a lot, of people say this, but no one really ever explains why.  I actually think by default ME1 has the worst story of the 3.  And again, when I say worst, it doesn’t mean I don’t like it, ME1’s story is one that is better than a lot of top movies, but to be honest, it’s a lesser version of ME3.  ME2 veers ever so slightly in a different direction, but I thought its story was excellent and incredibly personal.  I’ll put it this way, in ME1, I wanted to beat the game and beat the Reaper, but ME2 was the first Mass Effect game where I really developed an intense hatred for the villain (come on, the Collectors were specifically targeting humans to make into a human Reaper.  Did anyone seriously not feel intense revulsion at the sight of that human Reaper?  Honestly?).  ME3’s story was so incredibly vast and detailed that it’s hard to throw that one under the bus either (and yes, a perfect ending would have hands down made it the best in the series).  My point is, and this ties in to Hipster ME1 talk, that the hardcore advocates of ME1 who think the series was destroyed by ME2 know that the gameplay of ME1 is inferior, so they have to go out and say “well, the story was the best,” and for some reason no one questions them on it.  I wish more people would call them out on this.  The story of ME1 is not the hands down the best, and it really should be debated which game does tell the greatest tale.

·         No Showdown with Harbinger -  This has been a lesser complaint, but bears special significance to me because for awhile, I also felt cheated that there wasn’t any type of personal showdown between Shepard and the Reaper leader Harbinger.  However, upon further reflection, I decided that a one on one showdown between Shepard and Harbinger would not make sense.  Throughout ME3, a point is made that the Reapers are not using their complete force to destroy all organic life.  They are holding back, trying to harvest instead of destroy.  If the Reapers would have wanted to, they could have obliterated the galaxy within days.  This is illustrated when Harbinger makes a brief appearance during the charge of the Citadel Beam.  He absolutely decimates all Allied forces by himself.  If Shepard faced Harbinger, realistically Harbinger would destroy him instantly.  A faceoff between the two of them logistically just wouldn’t have worked.  By the way, again, this is why ME2 is so good.  It offers a type of showdown between Harbinger and Shepard.  Yes, Harbinger is controlling the Collectors, but it still allows some bad blood to boil between them.

·         First Day Downloadable content – One of the weaker complaints.  In no way does first day DLC hinder ME3.  Some argue that the DLC is essential to the main story of ME3.  Having played through ME 3 with and without the DLC, I can honestly say that the Prothean DLC is not in any way critical to the main story.  I viewed the DLC as more of a gift from Bioware to those who did not choose to purchase the collector’s edition of ME3.

In retrospect, there isn’t enough wrong with ME3 or its ending to warrant the type of mass complaint that is currently circulating the internet.  Those that say the ending is lazy, incomprehensible, or a disservice to gamers are simply trying to be too hip and cool, or they had their feelings hurt that the big finish didn’t quite play out the way they had hoped.  Their only purpose seems to be to upstage other gamers with their faux creativeness.  ME3 rightly deserves to be in the discussion of the greatest games of all time.  Its ending does not tarnish it in any way, especially if you take it into account with the entire series.  Yes, all does not end peachy and well, but would anything else be fitting?   Should there be a perfect ending with everyone alive and in bliss?  No, it should not.  Like everything else in the Mass Effect series, the game and the ending is complex and thought provoking.  No one should expect anything less.