The Indoctrination Effect: Mass Effect 3’s Deus Ex Machina (Spoiler Alert)

Spoiler Alert


I feel that we talk too much about Mass Effect 3 these days. However, things just keep popping up about the ending! With activist groups, petitions, filed complaints, and even worse being thrown as EA and BioWare it is nice to see a very well done analysis. I’m talking about the Indoctrination Theory. If you haven’t heard of it and are either in defense of the ending or against it, it is time you learn about it. We’ll be going heavily into detail about Mass Effect 3’s ending so heed all these spoiler warnings.

Just ahead is an embedded YouTube video detailing the Indoctrination Theory. It is 21 minutes long but will last much longer since you’ll have to pause the vid every now and then to read the text that comes up. It is imperative that you read the text if you want to grasp the whole theory. Bare with me here, this is going to be a dosey.


Wow, right? Even if this proves to be wrong, I have to applaud everyone who helped come up with this. There are a lot of proofs shown in this video. It may lean on a lot but so do most theories. After I watched that, it was hard for me not to think of it as truth. With everything presented before you and all the careful work done to explain everything, where can it go wrong? Even the part at the end of the video with Shepard twitching and breathing made me get goosebumps. Excellent theory and video. There is a problem, however, and it isn’t directly with how the theory works out but more in the lines of the effect it will have. The Indoctrination Effect, if you will.

There are plenty of ways this could pan out if proven correct. First off, if it is, let me start by saying kudos to BioWare. If the Indoctrination Theory is right then BioWare has delivered the greatest ending in gaming history. How? Think about it for a second. We’ve been fighting against the Reapers since 2007. We’ve seen Indoctrination in many ways. Saren was affected by this but he broke free when Shepard helped his will break through. Did it ever occur to us that Shepard was Indoctrinated when he came in contact with Sovereign? The theory video shows a very disturbing aspect of the weird noises we’ve been hearing since Mass Effect 2. Could they have been the voices of the Reapers? There are plenty of questions. Hell, the video even lays them out at the end. Questions that BioWare needs to answer. They are so open and easy to see that without clarification it leaves the Indoctrination Theory as the most upstanding explanation of the ending.

BioWare was recently asked about this theory and chalked it up to the wonderful minds of fans – basically a “no comment”. So will would happen if this theory is correct and we learn the truth?


Dues Ex Machina

This is the one I fear the most. I don’t want BioWare looking at this theory and realizing that a miracle has happened and the stars aligned. I don’t want them to take this theory and implement it as truth if it wasn’t. How would we even know? We don’t work at BioWare. No exec is going to come out and say, “well the theory is so nice that we made it the real thing”. If this theory is wrong, keep it that way. If it is and these people found out the truth through careful analysis, then bravo. This work is extremely thorough and it would be a shame to see it taken and implemented as a way to shut up the “whiners” (not said by me, but by EA) and finish this game. EA and BioWare must have been going through a nightmare since all of this started. They want to end it just as much as we do.


Extra DLC Complaints

If the theory is true and the final battle is yet to even begin, then that means BioWare will be releasing the true ending as DLC. If it is free then this possible outcome doesn’t matter. If it is paid content, then I can see a torrent of complaints from players about “having to buy the ending” to a franchise they’ve played loyally since 2007. Hell, I’d be one of them. I like the Indoctrination Theory. I think it is wonderfully cunning and provocative to find something like that in a video game. I would buy that DLC just to see where it leads but I wouldn’t feel happy about it. I understand that voice work, animations, and gameplay costs money to make and maintain and the studio needs to make that back. However, if the “true” ending isn’t on the disc then how can BioWare justify charging for it? Endings are something you cannot release without (unless you’re an MMO). Especially in a series finale, you need that ultimate climax and closing to make the reader/viewer/player satisfied and satiated. To that effect, millions will gobble up that DLC no matter what the price or their stance on the current game. Everyone wants to end Mass Effect.


Jipped Out of the End

Say you picked control or Synthesis at the end of the game and this DLC comes out, what then? You don’t get the ending. Why? Because you chose wrong and the Reapers won. Only destruction of the Reapers frees your will from the Indoctrination. Only that choice is the right choice. If you picked something else then you have failed. You don’t get to experience life after Indoctrination because you are now like Saren, except without any shred of willpower left to fight. Of course, our saves are most likely during the final battle for Earth so we could load up and pick the right one. However, wouldn’t that make you feel like your first choice was worthless?

I picked Synthesis because I believed that merging artificial and biological life would end the conflict forever and bring about the peace Shepard wanted. I enjoyed that ending as it fit my Shepard perfectly. If I was to find out that Destruction was the only right path then I would go back and do it but feel that what I witnessed 30 hours in during my first playthrough is gone now. It could be a double edged sword. If fans knew at the start that the current ending was a hallucination then I don’t believe it would be a problem. It would just be another test in a long line of them that Shepard has faced. If this theory is right and that kind of DLC is released, then we must throw away everything we did to “beat” the game and go back. Could you do that? As players of the Mass Effect franchise, could you toss away what you did and face the truth without feeling a hint of regret at your first choice?

This all hinges on if you didn’t destroy the Reapers on your first playthrough. If you did, then good for you. You beat Indoctrination.


Insulting The Fanbase

I read about this one on a couple different websites and I don’t agree with it at all. If you take the Indoctrination Theory and look at it like it would be an insult to you then you don’t fully grasp what it could mean. If this is really true (or if BioWare just implements it like stated above) then the Reaper threat has come full circle and we have to go through exactly what Saren did. We get to see inside Saren’s mind and experience all the horrors he went through. Imagine if you knew all this back in Mass Effect 1. Indoctrination doesn’t insult players. In fact, it challenges them to a degree that never has been seen in gaming. It makes you look at a hallucination as real life and tempts to trick you. Did it work? If it did then you should feel a sense of wonderment and awe right now. If it didn’t, then feel that you, the player, beat the Reapers. Either way, this theory puts all the control and choice in the player’s hands – one of the foremost features of the Mass Effect franchise. We spent three games making decisions and shaping the galaxy for the future. How could you possibly make the right ending? Look at Fallout 3. That ending was so bad that they made a (paid for) DLC package make it just a footnote in the game and not the end. Choice-driven games are difficult because it isn’t the journey that challenges the devs. It’s how you complete the story.



I want the Indoctrination theory to be real. Why? Because then I’ll feel that BioWare took my mind and made me Commander Shepard. That my main character that I imported through all three games was my creation and my being poured into something virtual. Then they took that virtual, futuristic, much more brave me and threw it in a near impossible situation. Depending on your decision, it could be interpreted as a win for the devs for defeating the player’s mind or a win for the player for solving a veritable Kobayashi Maru.

Mass Effect 3 is a symbol of ending not only for a series but for this generation of consoles. It means a lot to video game players. It would be easy to see both sides of the Indoctrination Theory but at this point we have to ask, “what would be better?” At least this theory makes me feel like I was taken for a spin unlike anything else has. BioWare has a lot of hurdles coming up and their decisions will effect their fanbase for years to come. This player, however, is a fan to the end. Mass Effect has been one of the best gaming series I have ever played. I look at the Indoctrination Theory as the most solid piece of proof of that.


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  1. Kinraze

    What if indoctrination endings aren’t as conclusive as you think? Remember that Cerberus spent the entire time making a breakthrough on husk and other control tech. The point of that research is never brought up for shepherd to challenge as he arrives at their research base far after they’ve completed their work. How do their efforts contribute to the ending other than to explain TIM’s goal which could have easily been presented without developing tech we never use in the end battle. It seems to me that if you wake up, the game will continue with your friends trying to find you among the rubble, fighting reaper forces along the way until they link up with you for a showdown or tactical retreat. If however, you chose control or synthesis you will end up with two alternate beginnings. In both, your friends will have to salvage or steal Cerberus tech to break harbinger’s control over you. According to the codex , shep should survive if his will was broken over a long period, his being the longest. However, based on the similarity if the scene with the space kid and the exact layout of the rush-the-beam site, if you racked enough points to earn synthesis, you will be indoctrinated but have chosen to jump into the beam and teleport to the citadel. Here, you’ll probably need whomever you left on the citadel or perhaps on the Normandy to regain your will (again through Cerberus tech). Once your back the game can introduce the mechanics of the weapon and either build up for a showdown using all your battle assets in different theatres on earth, or go right for the punch in an all out attack on harbinger. In this way, every aspect of your play through can be recognized, bioware makes a boatload off virtually a me4 title, can ramp up more through dlc multiplayer that sets stages of battles in earth settings, and rewards players based on their type of gameplay.

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