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.


  1. for rederence, this site has a list of all the endings:

  2. I think you've got some good points here - ultimately, Indoctrination Theory as it stands right now, is a THEORY and not guaranteed fact. A lot of the things that support Indoctrination Theory can be explained away in some other way.

    BUT, there are some bits, the massive plot holes namely, that just don't make sense. For me, I've been thinking about it the last 24 hours or so, and I think the ultimate key to whether ID is real or not boils down to the Catalyst/Child character. And based on what I've seen, and what he has said - and he doesn't really have all that much dialogue anwway, so I encourage everyone to think about it - there's significant evidence that supports ID.

    Right at the start of the game, after it has been established that an invasion is imminent, what is the first scene of the game within Shepard's vantage point? It it the NORMANDY (a toy one), and it is being played with by the same Catalyst/Child. Symbolically, this speaks volumes - right from the beginning, the Star/Child is seen toying with Shepard's vessel. And shepard looks on at the child. The child is playing by himself, seems to be having a good time. Ok, it is possible that this child happens to be a very independent and autonomous child and is just innocently having fun playing with the Normandy.

    BUT... what about Shepard's actual interaction with the child at this stage of the game? I'm talking about the child-in-vent-but-Anderson-can't-hear-him scene. Shepard offers to help the child, and how does he respond? "You can't help me". No matter how you look at it,this is a very unusual thing for a child to say, and in the manner that it was said, given the circumstances.

    The child does not seem to be emotional, no "Mommy" or "daddy" comments, he just ASSERTS that Shepard can't help him. I think any child in similar circumstances would ASK for help or be emotional/upset/in shock. And given that the kid was previously seen playing with the Normandy, it's not too much to expect that he would RECOGNIZE Shepard given that Shepard is the famous CAPTAIN of the Normandy.

    No, I think the only reason why the child has been inserted into this part of the game is to plant doubt in Shepard's mind - doubt about whether Shepard can actually save the galaxy. It's too contrived - in other words, the child does not present in a way that we can expect an ordinary child to present in such circumstances. He's too controlled, too assertive.. AND HE MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS?!? Why, after hiding out in a vent, and being in the same vicinity of soldiers would he HIDE, when moments later he's seen going TOWARDS soldiers to get on the ship (that ultimately gets blown up)? It's also obvious that the child and Shepard make eye contact when he gets on the ship - this is also unusual; why would the child, who has just frantically and just in time climbed on to a ship, immediately make eye contact with a soldier on a ship a few hundred metres away? The most logical and expected thing for him, you'd think, is to look within the ship for help, for his mom, or dad, or a familiar face. No - he looks straight at Shepard instead. Weird.

    1. The child is acting just like Newt from Aliens. She was a right bundle of laughs and was unconvinced that Ripley could help her (when they first met). Newt and GodBoy had the same flat delivery.

      So that part wasn't unusual it was cliché.

    2. The newt character though is not at all the same, it is a child that has been surviving for god knows how long on it's own in a pit of monsters which had left her detached and emotionless. The ME3 child was alone the entire time and exhibited very directed and manipulative behaviours. Everything the ME3 child did was directed at Sheppard and at no other character.

      And that is just ignoring the fact altogether that the entire game started and ended with the same unusual child - toying with Sheppard. The lack of interaction is unusual for ME3, the animators almost always show characters interacting with one another and helping one another... to suddenly leave that kind of interaction out can't be an accident, especially when it involves a helpless child.

      And why is a kid hanging around a command center with no supervision on the eve of an alien assault? All signs point to him being not really there other than in Sheppard's head from the start.

  3. The child next appears in dream sequences. We see shadowy figures throughout the dreams, a few park benches as well (not sure what these mean). And what happens when Shepard reaches the child? He stops, because the child catches fire. To me, this is a warning from Shepard's subconscious - don't get too close to this being, because it's dangerous. This happens repeatedly. And in the final dream sequence, Shepard sees himself approach the child and put his arm around the child - and they both catch fire. This is OBVIOUSLY a warning - Shepard best stay away.

    And in the final moments of the game, the child is seen again. His voice is made up of Shepard's own - an artistic choice? Or a symoblic choice, recognizing that the essence of the child is made up, partly, of Shepard's own? The child's assertions are confusing, the choices ridiculous, and Shepard has no way of finding out more information - this is a very closed-ended sequence. But once again, we're left with some very same circumstances of the Child and Shepard - in no sequence is the child interacted with, seen, or witnessed by any other character. At this point, he appears like an apparition.

    And if it indeed the Catalyst within the Citadel choosing a form to represent itself physically to Shepard, it has obviously chosen the image of the same child from the opening scenes of the game. Why has it chosen THIS specific form? This child has brought distress to Shepard, been the subject of Shepard's nightmares. Why would choosing THIS specific form be helpful or even logical? And if the Catalyst CAN choose this form, it is obvious that the Catalyst at this point of the game has some capacity to get INTO Shepard's head to create this specific apparition. If it has not gotten into Shepard's head as yet, it certainly has done so now.

    Could it be Shepard's own projection here? The child has been weighing on him, and so the child naturally appears when the Catalyst wants to interact with him? Well, if this is the case, it is still an odd and symobolically STRANGE choice - the child has been the subject of nightmares and distress before. NOW THE CHILD IS THE CAUSE OF SALVATION? That is totally counter to the child being on fire in Shepard's dreams.

    In my mind, it all boils down to this one important character - the Catalyst/Child. Too much about the story indicates that he was never an ordinary child to begin with. So until the child is figured out, I'm going to a firm believer in ID.

  4. Thanks for musings, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who doesn't like ID. It's too cute, too contrived and too out of pace with the rest of the story arc. If ID is true, it isn't awesome - it's a case of bad storytelling. Think of works of fiction with similar endings - they are all foreshadowed throughout the work. Sixth Sense, Jacob's Ladder, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Blade Runner (Director's Cut, that is)... these all heavily foreshadow their ending from the start. Where is the foreshadowing in ME2? In the first game? Perhaps ID theorists will find a way to shoehorn bits of the older games into it but it won't make ID fit Mass Effect's style. It simply doesn't fit the type of story Mass Effect has been developing.

    Indoctrination Theory displays classic conspiracy theory logic - what we have doesn't make sense, so ID MUST be true. You could just face the fact that Bioware cocked up the ending just like they cocked up Dragon Age 2's ending, because they suck at tying up loose ends.

  5. Thank you for this! I too am fascinated by this theory but there is no question in my mind that people are grasping for straws here. My main point is that this theory assumes that Bioware knowingly shipped an incomplete ending. No company in there right mind would do that.

    After reading the original leaked script where they call the child the "guardian". It unfortunately seems as they were rushed and got lazy with a few things leading to a bad ending. Confirmed by the Final Hours app where they admit they waiting until November to get Mr. Sheen's voice recorded. Occam's razor at its finest.

  6. First of all, I think that IT fits perfectly well within the story arc of all 3 games. One point that doesn't seem to get discussed too often is: Why would Shepard be immune to Indoctrination? S/He has been exposed to more reapers and reaper tech than any other person in all 3 games combined (except maybe TIM, and he was pretty clearly indoctrinated). Wouldn't it then make perfect sense that one of his final battles with the reapers is the one for his own mind? That would push my Shepard to an entirely different level of badass, being the one and only organic life form to resist reaper indoctrination.

    Also, why is it so hard to understand that just because BW left this ending open ended (or unsatisfying as the case may be), that doesn't mean that they left the whole story with a crappy collection of endings? Unlike movies and books in print, BW has the ability to modify their work of art at any time they choose to. The sixth sense could not have gotten away with a gotcha ending and released the "real" ending as a 5 or 10 minute clip to be downloaded later (hey hope movie producers aren't reading this...that would be a terrible idea lol). BW can and will I suspect, although the only thing that would make it bad in my mind would be to charge for the "Truth" DLC ending that they will certainly release. If they charged for the true ending, then they did actually sell everyone an incomplete game. If IT is correct then the last thing we know (if chosen properly) is that Shepard has awoken from his mental battle and can now progress to destroy the reapers, for realz this time. I also think that if BW did construct their story in this way, they are brilliant. Just the fact that the interwebz has been on fire with hate over the ending to their game is praise enough...obviously more than a few people were so emotionally involved with this video game that the outcry was almost as loud and united as the SOAP/PIPA issue recently.

  7. About the eyes though - it is not just the colour of TIM's eyes that have significance, it's the pattern. At the end Shepard seems to have the same pattern, and colour. I read the argument about the eyes not having to be a specific colour, but the pattern does seem weird. This article also says that the colour of Shepard eyes do not change, as the control/synthesis options merely highlight his 'brilliant blue eyes'. This is simply not true, as you can choose Shepard's eye colour at the beginning of the game - you may have had a Shepard with blue eyes; mine had brown eyes. This is not concrete proof for IT, but I cannot find another way to explain it.

    1. That's a very good point about the eyes, I completely overlooked that you can make Shrpard's whatever color you want. Did your character's brown eyes change color at the end then? How do you explain Dr. Kenson's yellow, non patterned eyes in The Arrival DLC?

    2. It was actually the exact way with my character. What's more, even before you choose during his conversation with the Star Child, his eyes are a slight bluish color. Choosing either Control or Sythesis makes them a deeper blue while Destroy makes them their original color. This takes place even after the updated version with the extended cut and final dlc making it difficult to believe that BW just decided not to fix that.

      As far as the arrival dlc on ME2, Dr. Kenson was a physical entity meaning that her physical eyes would not have changed due to no cybernetic implants being placed inside her body. In the final scenario with Shepard, if the IT is to be believed, this is taking place in Shepard's mind where it is meant to symbolize the indoctrination from the reapers.

      Standard Eye Color (default brown) = No control
      Light/ "Brilliant" Blue Color = Increased control
      "Full" or "Deep" Blue Color = Full Control

      Considering after the game's release and all the dlc patches that have come out, if this was an error on BW, it should have been dealt in some point and makes no sense that it wasn't considering actual dialogue as well as cutscenes were added and changed multiple times.

  8. The pattern in TIM's eyes are from cybernetic implants, not Indoctrination. Shepard also has lots of cybernetic implants, his eyes most likely being included(like TIM's). I think it could be argued that the eye color and patterns shown are due to his cybernetic implants being revealed when selecting the control/synth options and becoming basically cooked alive.

    1. TIM's eyes were a result of cybernetic implants, they were the result of him being partially indoctrinated back in Mass Effect: Evolution. Before he became the TIM, Jack Harper was a mercenary. This team encountered a reaper object that transformed one of his teammates into a husk-like creature when his teammate touched the object. TIM grabbed the man's hand to pull him away from the reaper artifact, but in doing so, he got huskified partially as a side effect. His eyes changed, but his mind seemed intact.

      It's a subtle hint that indoctrination can happen quickly and slowly. TIM's indoctrination just took a few decades to fully explode out, esp. after he had more reaper technology purposely implanted into him.

  9. Great read, Martin. Kept me more entertained for 20 minutes than the Indoctrination Theory video :D. At least I wasn't yelling at the screen.

    I think a lot the people that look very deeply into Mass Effect 3 are forgetting that at the end of the day its still a videogame, and that means limits within the real world due to time and budget concerns of the developer.

    You can very easily find yourself reading deeply into something that was just a byproduct of the game development process. Do you remember the MSV Cornucopia in Mass Effect 2? Did you know the cargo hold is exactly the same as Space Station Sigma-23 in the mission UNC: Depot Sigma-23? If you looked too deeply into that you might start making random theories about random things, making connections where there are none. When the actual answer is that they reused the environment for a different level because this saves time and effort on the part of the developer and map designers. They likely changed it enough so that you probably didn't even notice when you were playing.

    This also applies for one of the satellite supporting facts that the Indoctrination Theory uses: That the trees around the beam are the ones in his dreams: You also don't need to pay an artist and modeller to make a million different trees unless its absolutely essential to the plotline or you've got money and time in development to burn. They needed a tree asset, they had some made already from the dream sequence, so they used those same ones. It's pretty cut-and-dry.

    As for the Boy, I'm fairly certain he was real.
    Unfortunately throughout the game what should have been a gentle tug in Shepard's mind was used by the writers like a cudgle; you are beat, repeatedly in the face by the fact that the death of this kid is an issue for Shepard; an emotional hook.

    The pre-launch Mass Effect 3 marketing materials made a very big deal of "some people are going to die, you can't save everyone." This has actually been a running theme throughout Mass Effect. Mass Effect 1 saw a trailer where you're receiving a distress call from two planets and Shep has to make the decision on where to go. They took that concept a step further in Mass Effect 2 but they very obviously wanted it to resonate in Mass Effect 3; The dream sequences are like the cudgel; "Did you forget that Shep feels bad for not saving that kid? Here's another reminder!" *whack*.

    The Star Child likely takes the form of the kid due to it being a hook in Shep's mind. Have you ever seen Contact? Shit I hope you did because I just basically gave away the ending; but anyways, the Star Child sequence would make a whole lot more sense if you watch Contact. Another example: Why did Shepard see the Quarians in their enviro suits when he was being relayed the memories of the Morning War? Because that was how his brain could construct the events in his mind's eye. He didn't know at that point what a Quarian looks like outside of the Envirosuits so his mind filled in the blanks. I think we're seeing a similar theme here with the Star Child. The AI/VI/whateverItIs just chose to project itself as the child. Why not a family member or maybe a romantic interest like Liara? Because that wouldn't of continued to push the whole "didn't save the kid" plot the game plagues with you dream sequences over.

    That singular ventilation duct scene with the kid was nothing but a vehicle to establish the existence of the kid and Shep's attempt to save him, thus laying the framework for the entire plotline I outlined above. I wholly reject the notion that Anderson didn't see or hear the kid. You did a great job of picking apart the specifics. There's just too much conjecture there on the part of the Theory.


    I've been wavering in and out of believing IT, but until something beats this mammoth movie, IT looks more promising to me

    1. That video doesn't do much for me. I was really excited when I first started watching it because it appears to be really well done. However, the vast majority of it is more IT conjecture. Making giant assertions that don't have actual proof that shape the rest of the entire IT theory. Yes, there a few good points (stacks of dead bodies by the Citadel beam, caution signs by the child), but it's mostly wild conjecture. For instance, saying the StarChild left "angrily" when you choose the destroy option is silly.

  11. To your three points:

    1. The boy is real. There's no really good reason to think otherwise. The Catalyst chooses the image of the child that has been haunting Shepard's dreams, because it is the goal of the Catalyst to convince Shepard to choose synthesis. In other words, the Catalyst dug into Shepard's mind, found the image that would have the greatest emotional impact, and went with it. It also, stepping out of the game, provides some nice imagery.

    2. The radio chatter calls for a regroup. If Shepard and Anderson could survive when everyone else has died, it doesn't seem to be too big a stretch to assume that the other squadmates also survived. Harbinger was sloppy; I think he was distracted by the armada of spaceships trying to stop him from doing what he very nearly did. So, the survivors of your squad fall back to the Normandy, which then joins the fleet. Moving to get away, it jumps to light speed, only to be overtaken by the Crucible explosion. The planet is some uncharted planet near to Earth - over and over we hear that the Galaxy Map is incomplete.

    3. On the Citadel. OK, the rubble looks more like what you would find in destroyed London than what you would find in the destroyed Citadel. But in the background of the Shepard breathing in video is the distinct sound of creaking. I think it's the sound of the backbone of the Citadel straining against forces it simply has never faced before.

    I don't buy the ID. And nothing in the ending seemed overly mysterious to me. Not explicitly spelled out, which is a bit of a switch for the ME games, but not incomprehensible.