Indoctrinating Ourselves Into Ignorance: An Exploration Of The Failings Of Both Human Reason And The Indoctrination Theory Of Mass Effect 3’s Ending

The Indoctrination theory of Mass Effect 3’s ending states that the game’s closing chapter takes place largely inside Shepard’s head, and is actually an attempt by Bioware to depict the lead character taking part in a psychodrama during which the Reapers attempt to indoctrinate him and turn him into a slave.

It is also incorrect.

It is based on flawed reasoning, logical fallacies and has very little evidence to support it. Adherents are, knowingly or otherwise, using flaws in human reasoning and perception, as well as basic old fashioned denial to create a completely fallacious set of information, perpetuating a theory that has no real basis.

Saying it doesn’t make it true through.

We will look at indoctrination theory, the false reasoning behind it and even the evidence presented to support in this document. I want to be very thorough here and ensure there is little to no room for misunderstanding. As such this document is extremely long and weighs in at over 10,000 words. I do not recommend trying to read it all at once, however I would strongly advise you to read all of it eventually. A table of contents is provided for your convenience, but please be aware that each section of this text builds on ideas established in previous sections, as such skipping bits may leave you high and dry.


Part one: Wilful disbelief, conspiracy theories and denial.

Part two: All Evidence is evidence, but some evidence is more evident than

the rest.

Part three: Setting the bar with a razorblade.

Part four: Begging the question. Theory follows evidence, evidence does not follow theory.

Part five: A quick recap.

Part six: Putting it all together and refuting the idea of the indoctrination theory’s role in the ending.

Part seven: The ending’s inconsistencies are not consistent with indoctrination theory.

· Harbinger can’t hit Shepard if he’s standing still during the final charge.

· How does Major Coates fail to see Shepard and Anderson reach the beam?

· Why would Coates issue the fall back order when Harbinger had left the battle?

· There are shrubs and trees present after Shepard is hit by the beam- trees and shrubs from his dreams.

· Why does the transport beam lead to an area right next to the controls to open the arms?

· You can’t kill the keeper or Anderson despite the fact you have a pistol.

· The Citadel is made of parts from scenery in other Mass Effect games, including the Shadow Broker’s ship and Collector ship.

· Anderson couldn’t reach the terminal before Shepard. There was only one path leading to that room.

· Shepard hears Reaper voices as he approaches Anderson. This is them trying to indoctrinate him.

· That whole scene between Shepard, the Illusive man and Anderson is a metaphorical struggle- everything after the beam hits Shepard takes place in Shepard’s own head.

Part eight: Debunking evidence from outside the ending sequence.

· The Rachni queen and her oily songs.

· Indoctrination by contact with Reaper tech.

· The ghost boy.

Part nine: Indoctrinating ourselves into ignorance.

Part one: Wilful disbelief, conspiracy theories and denial.

To begin with, we are going to analyse the reasons why the indoctrination theory has come about and the serious logic and reasoning problems that riddle its reaper tech infested corpse. The first and most important principle for this comes from the very basic concept of denial. People don’t want to think that Bioware gave them a bad ending.

But it goes deeper than that. People have invested hundreds of hours in these games, multiple playthroughs, explored so many decision options, weaved a dozen different narratives, participated in the game’s community, then watched their decisions and ideas grow and flourish and ultimately, have become invested in this series to an incredible degree. What Bioware have done here is truly amazing; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fanbase this open, intense and active in their love for a world and a setting. There’s a connection here, a very important bond between the player and the game world. It sounds corny, but for thousands of us it is true. For many people Mass Effect was more than just a videogame, it was a narrative they could invest in, they could get behind, that they were a part of. Its fan base has a level of dedication to rival that of Star Wars fans, Trekkies and LoTR fanatics.

It’s natural that when something as terrible as Mass Effect 3’s ending happens to that fanbase, no one wants to accept it. People don’t want to think that something so bad happened to something they were so invested in. Right away this means the fanbase is going to be more open to alternative suggestions than they might otherwise be for another piece of art work.

This can then be reinforced by interpreting actual evidence. For example, Bioware didn’t get such an invested audience by being shit writers. Their stories are on the whole very good, and many regard Mass Effect as one of the most important and interesting new SciFi intellectual properties of this time. All with good reason- the story is well constructed, the characters are engaging and interesting, the setting has depth and we are made to care about what happens.

No one who created that level of quality in a story could possibly go on to make something so nonsensical, right?

And this is fair. What we see, we don’t want to believe. To compound that, what we know suggests that what we’ve seen can’t be right. Bioware are good writers. Ergo, we must be missing something.

So right off the bat we’ve got a situation primed for exploitation. We have a group of people who do not want to believe something apparent, and whose experience tells them that this thing can’t happen.

The next 2 paragraphs discuss 9/11. If you are sensitive on this matter, skip it. I am not saying ME3’s ending was as bad as 9/11. I am not comparing the two. I may be a nitpicking neck beard, but I am not a fucking idiot. The reason I am bringing it up is that it demonstrates how the situation outlined above can lead people to earnestly believe something truly wretched.

It’s fair to say that 9/11 was possibly the most traumatic event in American history. There have been bloodier events, there have been more political events, and there have even possibly been more dramatic ones. But 9/11 hit home hard. It made a nation who had felt invulnerable, feel vulnerable. It brought the prospect of chaos and destruction on a massive scale from the cinema screen into people’s backyards. It showed that some people hated and despised Americans, and that they had the means to kill you in your own home or place or work. That they could get to you. That they could get to your children. How hard must it be to accept that in your nice safe little western world populated by ipods, mobile phones and flat screen TVs, you are vulnerable? You can be killed? And not by an oppressive government or totalitarian regime a thousand miles away, but by a rag tag group of psychotic extremists. Terrorists went from being movie villains to being a real threat, who could be lurking anywhere.

Who wants to believe that? No one. No one wants to feel as if at any moment 400 tonnes of steel and jet fuel could crash through the window. But to compound that, there’s a strong sense that this shouldn’t happen. America is one of the most powerful nations on earth. One of the biggest militaries, strongest economies, allies everywhere, a culture that pervades most of the western world... this couldn’t have just been done by a group of nut jobs surely? See why I bring this up? We’ve got the same set up here- an event no one wants to believe with perceived evidence that such an event shouldn’t have happened. So people came up with an idea to explain it away. The government did it. The twisted logic here is actually quite basic- if it was the government that orchestrated 9/11 then clearly America isn’t vulnerable. We did it to ourselves. Ergo, there’s still no one out there who can threaten us. This also has the added bonus of giving a very real, direct and visible target for the ire of the person who buys into the theory. People like having someone/something tangible and ‘close’ to blame. It’s also easy to rationalize- most people dislike their government anyway, so why not push that out farther? They take our money, destroy our civil liberties and are trying to remove God from the nation; of course they could do this! Or if you’re left, they allow corruption, deny healthcare to the needy, are bought and paid for by the companies and obey the whims of markets opposed to people- if there was a dollar in this they’d do it!

This is very long for a case study, but it illustrates the point at hand in a real world situation, and highlights how a scenario in which you have disbelief and denial, coupled with a background that reinforces that disbelief with ‘causal’ evidence, leads people to accept the craziest ideas. But of course, you need more than just desire to win over so many people. For all their apparent stupidity, people are actually quite bright and require at least some evidence (regardless of how minor) before they will accept something.

Part two: All Evidence is evidence, but some evidence is more evident than the rest.

There is a fuck of a lot of evidence provided in the Mass Effect 3 Indoctrination theory. Piles and piles of the stuff. Going through it all and refuting it on a piecemeal basis would take far longer than an article like this could reasonably allow. I will address a few key points of evidence in time though, don’t worry. However before I do I need to highlight a few very important problems with which can be observed in probably all evidence collected so far.

First off, let’s dispel the notion that increasing the amount of evidence for a theory increases the strength of the theory- because it just isn’t true.

More important than the amount of evidence is the quality of the evidence. Often times one or two solid items of evidence can trump a pile of weaker evidence. Let me explain this by analogy. You’re serving on a jury presiding over a murder trial. The prosecution council makes their case and the evidence listed against the defendant is as follows:

· Stab wounds on victim consistent with knife found in defendant’s kitchen.

· Defendant knew victim and had a very tumultuous relationship with him.

· Defendant undergoing anger management therapy for violent outbursts.

· Fence between defendant victim’s property found broken from defendant’s side.

· Victim’s house entered from the back garden, bordered by said fence.

· Defendant’s fingerprints found in victim’s house.

· Incinerator in defendant’s back garden used just after murder, traces of clothing fibres and blood found near it.

Screams guilty doesn’t it? We have the weapon, the motive, the means and the disposal of evidence. Well, the defence council produces one item of evidence:

· Security camera footage of me (I mean, uh, the defendant) in a hotel thousands of miles away at the time of the murder.

Bam. Physically couldn’t have done it. Now in realty of course such a weak case would never go to trial. But as an analogy it highlights how one very strong item of evidence (an alibi) can completely blow multiple weaker pieces of evidence out of the water.

However for some strange reason our minds are programmed in such a way as to perceive a large quantity of evidence as the basis of a strong case, instead of analysing the quality of the evidence presented. Culturally I think this is also imprinted on us by murder mysteries and other whodunit stories, where typically the hero must piece together a very long and convoluted chain of evidence in order to catch their killer. In reality, most crimes are solved by one or two extremely strong, yet basic items of evidence (such as a witness testimony).

Ergo, we can discount the fact that there is a lot of evidence presented in the Indoctrination theory as evidence in and of itself. This doesn’t undermine individual items of evidence, but we must accept that the fact there’s a lot of it doesn’t actually mean anything as far as proof is concerned.

Basically the saying ‘there’s no smoke without a fire’, is a false one.

To go back to our conspiracy theory lesson, you will again see mountains of evidence presented by conspiracy theorists on any matter of subjects. Typically these can also be refuted by a few items of evidence (and in many cases where scientific fact is concerned, they are just flat out wrong). If you watch a conspiracy theorist debate a ‘sceptic’ in a talk show, you will usually see the following pattern- sceptic opens with one very strong argument. Argument is typically copper bottomed and so rather than try to refute it directly, the theorist will throw down an unrelated item of evidence to support their view. Said item of evidence will be weak and quickly eviscerated by the sceptic. Theorist immediately throws down another item of evidence which is of course destroyed, but then follows it up with another item, and so on.

As time wears by the audience forget the really strong item of evidence laid out by the sceptic, but remember the endless stream of evidence thrown out by the theorist. Typically, the sceptic can’t get any more evidence in edgewise (if they do then the theorist accuses them of dodging the last question) and if they can, then the theorist will quickly resume the fusillade. This is a variant of a technique known as fast talking and is a known fallacious argument.

Ever noticed how long these Indoctrination theory videos are? More importantly, the fact they throw point after point after point at you without ever stopping to actually fully discuss them an item of evidence raised?

Part three: Setting the bar with a razorblade.

Ockham’s razor (or Occam in some spellings), is an important philosophical principle. Ways of interpreting or articulating the idea vary (and I would encourage you to look up other definitions), but it can be broadly defined thus:

In any given situation where there are multiple possible explanations or solutions to a problem or phenomenon, then all other things being equal and taken into account, the simplest explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one.

Some people know the idea better as ‘Rube Goldberging’, meaning to accomplish a simple task by overly complex means. A Rube Goldberg machine for example is a joke contraption that uses a complex system to achieve a simple goal- such as the Mousetrap board game, or Wallace’s inventions in Wallace and Grommet.

Ockham’s razor does not mean simplicity is truth though. An important part of the term I’ve given here is ‘all other things being equal and taken into account’. This means that evidence must be included, and that the explanation must account for observed facts. As Einstein said ‘Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler’. So it doesn’t matter if your case is far more simple- if it can’t account for the observed facts without relying on assumptions, then Ockham’s razor will not favour it.

For example, let’s take two competing ideas for the birth of the world and life. On one side, we have a fundamentalist young earth creationist, who believes that the world was made in six days a few thousand years ago. On the other a scientists espousing the idea of the solar nebular model, nucleation, geological process and evolution (it’s more complex than that but if you want it accurate go and read a journal). The scientist (who for the sake of a face we shall say is Brian Cox, because Brian Cox is awesome), begins to explain about gravitational attraction, fusion, the birth of the Sun, the accretion of matter into planets via gravity, geological theory, possible explanations for the origins of life itself, and of course the evolution of said life forms (Cox is a physicist but sue me, he’s still awesome).

The process takes six hours. He skipped the intricate bits.

Then the young earth creationist then declares “God made the world in six days, as it is now. He did it 6,000 years ago.”

There is silence.

On the surface of it, Ockham’s razor appears to support the young earth creationism theory. As any good scientist is, Cox is very open about what he knows for almost certain and what he suspects but cannot yet prove. As such it sounds like he is making many assumptions, whereas the young earth creationist is only making one- God did it.

However Ockham’s razor in fact supports Cox. Why? Because there’s a really big pile of stuff that the young earth creationist is applying that one assumption to. Dinosaurs- god put them there to test the faithful (assumption as he can provide no evidence). What about carbon dating- God did it. Can you actually prove God in that case? And so forth. While Cox has made many assumptions during his lecture once reaching the limits of scientific knowledge, he has also accounted for- and explained- far more of the observed facts and phenomena than the young earth creationist.

To put it another way, the young earth creationist is only making one assumption, but it needs to be made multiple times. Cox’s baseline theory may be far more complicated, but it explains far more of the observed facts because of that. It needs to be complicated to explain everything.

An understanding of Ockham’s razor and how it works is vitally important to knowing why ME3’s indoctrination theory makes no sense. This is because the evidence that is put forward in the theory can often be interpreted in at least two ways- typically one way which supports the idea that Shepard was being indoctrinated, and the other that says the evidence in question is just bad design, or unrelated to the theory as a whole. As this is a piece of art work, we cannot easily establish fact without asking the artists what they intended- and trust me, Bioware will NEVER confirm or deny the indoctrination theory. Even if they release DLC that contradicts it directly they won’t outright state ‘Shepard was not indoctrinated’. They gain too much from the controversy, and people who are hopelessly attached to this theory. Even if they did, these people will keep waving their little flags and declaring that indoctrination was truth and Bioware just changed it due to public pressure.

As such, we rely on logical analysis and Ockham’s razor to weigh conflicting viewpoints and try to determine the ‘best’ one.

Part four: Begging the question. Theory follows evidence, evidence does not follow theory.

This is an extremely important concept as it refutes large tracts of the indoctrination theory. Take a rest, have a drink, let your mind settle and then come back to reading.

Much of the evidence present in indoctrination theory requires that you first believe indoctrination theory, or at least acknowledge it. This is a logical fallacy known as ‘Begging the question’, and loosely means that an argument relies on its assertion being a part of the premise. This is also known as circular logic.

If you’re a gamer (and if you’re reading this you probably are) then you’ve probably heard the phrase “We need DRM to reduce piracy”. This is a perfect example of begging the question as it is arguing that DRM is needed to reduce piracy, by stating that DRM reduces piracy- which is an assumption, but is made to sound like fact by the assertion itself. Now, if you point to other evidence instead, you break the logical fallacy: “This market research data indicates that Shooter 2012 sold more copies than Shooter 2011, despite the fact that Shooter 2012 had DRM and Shooter 2011 did not. Ergo DRM reduces piracy.” This argument has its own set of problems and assumptions, but Begging the question isn’t one of them. Try and spot the others as an exercise in critical thinking. I’ll list them at the bottom of this section.

There is a very easy way to avoid begging the question. If you develop a theory by looking at the evidence alone and piecing together an explanation, then you should not run into this trap. Why? Because it means you are constructing a theory based only on what you can directly prove. Begging the question always requires an assumption of some sort. This is why theory must always follow from evidence. The opposite of this (which we see in indoctrination theory) is the evidence following the theory. This means someone has come up with the idea first, and then started looking for evidence to support that idea. In other words, they are letting the theory dictate the evidence, rather than letting evidence dictate the theory. This is also known as ‘Cherrypicking’. It means that all evidence presented to support your theory will fit perfectly, but there will be large swathes of evidence not covered by your theory, some of which may actually disprove it.

You get around this when someone raises inconvenient evidence by pointing out the massive pile of other evidence that you have, and hoping that convinces the sceptic of your case. But as we know, a single item of strong evidence can overturn mountains of weak evidence, so this is a fallacy so long as the evidence presented against the case is strong enough. This means that nitpicking is not a valid form of argument- you can’t just find one item that contradicts one piece of evidence and claim that refutes the entire theory (unless the theory is dependent on that one piece of evidence)- you need something that takes the theory apart utterly.

Claiming the bible as proof of God is also an example of begging the question as it relies on the assumption that God is real in order for the bible to be the true word of God. See the circular logic?

Let’s put both begging the question and theory follows evidence to the test. I’m going to describe an animal you, try and guess what it is: It is a mammal. It has four legs and no arms. Its coat is made up of solid brown patches with a small amount of yellowy white between them. It is native to Africa. It has a very long neck and stands on average about 5.5 metres (18 feet) tall. It eats leaves from the tops of trees. It has small horns.

You know what it is? A cow. A malformed cow. Sorry, did you think it was a giraffe?

I can see how you would think that. But you see I know that there is an unusually high rate of mutation among the bovine population of Africa. No one really knows why, it’s just one of those things. I first noticed it when I was out there doing tests for the institute of studies, and have since researched it thoroughly. While it may look very different to the layman, this cow still shows the same basic traits as any other cow. It is an ungulate, it is even toed, it is a herbivore, it suckles its young, it has a herd mentality, the herd is focused around an alpha male and both are able to digest plant matter otherwise indigestible by other mammals. This cow is an extreme case, but it certainly is a cow.

You don’t buy that for a minute do you? If it looks like a giraffe, eats like a giraffe, behaves like a giraffe and moves like a giraffe, then it’s a giraffe. Thought (that is a giraffe) follows evidence (physical description). In the above paragraph evidence (similarities to cows) has followed from theory (it is a mutated cow). I’ve started out with the idea of the mutant and then gone in search of (very bad and in some cases outright incorrect) evidence to support that theory, whereas what I should have done was just looked at the animal and tried to figure out what it was from the available evidence. Also notice how the mutant cow theory, while the evidence backing it up is fine (sort of), is debunked by the evidence I’m skimming over- namely, look at all those other giraffes, are they ALL cow mutants as well, you fucking tool?

Now, sometimes the obvious is flat out wrong. The Monty Hall problem is my favourite example of this. The key element is that ideas like the Monty Hall problem - while contrary to our common sense (and even to a point critical thinking) - can provide strong evidence to back themselves up. To put it another way, you need to provide extremely strong proof to demonstrate that the most obvious theory (Ockham’s razor) is wrong, if the most obvious theory (derived from evidence) explains all the observed facts.

It goes without saying of course that if we can prove an item of evidence is only supporting a theory if the theory is true, then it is an example of begging the question and must be discarded.

To close, here are some of the problems you can pick with the DRM statement (repeated for your convenience): “This market research data indicates that Shooter 2012 sold more copies than Shooter 2011, despite the fact that Shooter 2012 had DRM and Shooter 2011 did not. Ergo DRM reduces piracy.” Correlation does not equate causation. There are other factors that must be accounted for. Perhaps Shooter 2012 had a better marketing campaign? Perhaps people who enjoyed 2011 encouraged others to buy 2012. Did 2012 contain features that gave it more appeal than 2011? Also doesn’t address the actual facts- is looking at sales figures and NOT piracy rates.

Part five: A quick recap.

It’s been a hell of a read to get here. If you’ve made it this far then thank you for taking the time to read the whole thing properly. Of course if you’ve skipped to this bit looking for a TL;DR, then go back and start again. This is complicated stuff and can’t be summed up in a few lines. What’s written below is a recap of key ideas:

· People don’t want to believe that Bioware messed up the ending.

· There is indirect evidence (Bioware’s generally high skill) that they could not have mess up the ending.

· These two factors create wilful disbelief and a ‘spark’ of evidence to support the disbelief.

· A large amount of evidence is not in and of itself evidence.

· Related to this, stringing together lots of items of evidence does not, in and of itself make a strong case. This article for example may be long, but it is focusing a few key points to ensure understanding, rather than throwing fact after fact at you.

· In situations where two or more explanations are present for something, Ockham’s razor can identify the most likely one. This will typically be the simplest explanation, requiring the fewest assumptions, that manages to explain all the observed facts in the case.

· Evidence that relies on a conclusion being true in order to be evidence for the said conclusion is begging the question, and not valid evidence.

Part six: Putting it all together and refuting the idea of the indoctrination theory’s role in the ending.

Here is where we put our learning together and apply these principles to indoctrination theory.

First of all, we can demonstrate that indoctrination theory is entirely the product of begging the question.

We start with something that can be observed by all parties- many elements of Mass Effect 3’s ending do not make sense and/or are inconsistent with what we would expect from the rest of the series. We will get more into the specifics later; however examples include the sudden appearance of the ‘Starchild’, the abrupt babyface turn of the Reapers, the extreme lack of any closure, surviving being hit by Harbinger’s Thanix cannon and the presence of squad members with you in your final mission instead on the Normandy in the final ending sequence.

There is wilful disbelief at work here as no one wants to think that Bioware just messed up some of these details. There is also a spark of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Bioware didn’t mess it up and that the problem is with people’s understanding of the ending- that being that Bioware do not make such large mistakes as up to this point they have demonstrated strong talent as story tellers and game designers.

First of all, Let us dispel this initial ‘spark evidence’. Bioware is made up of people- talented people- but still people. Therefore they are not infallible. It is entirely possible for creative individuals and companies to turn out a horrible product following an extremely good one. For example Frank Miller, the comic artist and writer, wrote Sin City as well as the Dark Knight returns. Both are considered some of the best graphic novel works out there by many critics. In recent years though he has also written All Star Batman and Robin, a series so terrible it was canned after only a few issues. He also wrote Holy Terror, anti Islamist propaganda which is regarded as one of the worst comics of modern times.

A more prominent example would be George Lucas who created the much beloved Star Wars films, and then went on to create the Star Wars prequels- regarded by most critics and fans alike to be complete schlock.

Even Bioware themselves are not beyond reproach in this field. Dragon Age 2 was rated much lower on average than Dragon Age Origins (check metacritic- and no, I am NOT using the user ratings). It was also panned for more by fans.

This is not evidence that the inconsistencies present in the end of ME3 were the result of a mistake. It does however demonstrate how talented creators can- and indeed have- produced some terrible work. I.E it refutes the idea that Bioware couldn’t have messed up the ending, keeping the door open to other interpretations.

Something most people will agree on is that the aforementioned elements of the game’s ending do not make sense without an explanation. Two schools of thought have emerged as a result of this. One states that for whatever reason, it is just bad writing and design. The other states that this is not the case and that Bioware heavily infer that Shepard was being indoctrinated, and the entire ending sequence essentially amounts to a dream.

Right off the bat, indoctrination theory hits a problem. It is already showing all the signs begging the question. The design inconsistencies we’ve seen in the ending can be easily attributed to rushed or poor design without needing to assume anything- that’s just what it looks like.

Indoctrination theory however needs to be make the assumption that something else was going on that people in the first group missed- and then of course they need to go back and find evidence to support that standpoint. Straight away the indoctrination theory is allowing a theory to lead the evidence, as opposed to using evidence to derive a theory. If you do the latter without any assumptions, then the ending just ends up as poor quality work.

We can see this leading to begging the question when indoctrination theory is applied to almost any inconsistency in the ending. Let’s start by looking at the fact that characters with you during the final fight appear on the Normandy in some endings.

Indoctrination theory states that this is because they were not actually with you, but on the Normandy the whole time. What evidence is there present for this? Well, if Shepard was indoctrinated... And we reach a logic circle. If Shepard was indoctrinated then it could well mean that the characters we see on the ship are the ‘real’ ones, but this is only true if Shepard was indoctrinated- ergo, begging the question, ergo can be dismissed as it is not actual evidence.

The bad design explanation states that characters are there because for whatever reason, the ending was rushed and poorly designed, so these ending scenes were pre scripted with set characters and didn’t take squad selection or basic narrative timing into account. This explains the presence of the characters on the Normandy with only one assumption- that the scene was pre scripted with no reference to the final squad. This assumption is backed up however by evidence- the ending seems to have been very rushed.

Let’s ensure that evidence for the ending being rushed is both valid and strong before we continue. Only three endings. Not only that, but all of them are essentially identical bar one or two very, VERY minor cosmetic changes. Given the time and effort taken to show different ending set ups in ME1 and ME2, and even Dragon Age Origins (even if it was a PowerPoint presentation), it seems out of place that Bioware would intentionally provide so little variation on the ending of the series- especially when they stated that there would be many more endings (16 I believe).

The tone of the ending is also very jarring, and we are given very little information about what is actually happening. This is again at odds with what we’ve seen in the rest of the series. The pacing of the ending is extremely staccato compared with the smooth pacing and delivery of the rest of the game, including action sequences such as the flight from Kalros. The only other time I’ve seen Bioware’s delivery become this clumsy and amateurish was on another game that was rushed- Dragon Age 2 (read IGN’s interview with Inon Zur for confirmation).

We also know that the ending was in fact re written following a leak of the game’s script back in November 2011- a leak that was confirmed by Bioware as genuine (hell they even asked for feedback from it). Allowing time for production and shipping of the game, there probably wasn’t enough time to make these changes properly. Of course the problem is further compounded by the game’s lead writer leaving halfway through to work on The Old Republic. From all this evidence we can draw the conclusion that the last few months of development were at the very least subject to time constraints, changes and stress. We don’t know for certain, but the available facts lean that way.

We have looked at the available evidence from the game itself too, and drawn a theory from it. This theory is based in sound reasoning of observed facts, without the need to stretch our assumptions too much- at the very least we don’t need to stretch them as far as we do with indoctrination theory.

If we accept that the game was rushed (we can reach this conclusion simply by playing it, further research such as the leaked script and departure of the lead writer just reinforces what we can see in the game), then the idea of the endings being pre scripted and programmed by the simple expedient of chopping and changing characters as appropriate rings as very likely. This means the presence of characters on the Normandy who should not be there is explained in a simple way- basic fuck up. On the other hand, indoctrination theory requires us to accept indoctrination theory before this inconsistency can be used as evidence for it.

The entire ending argument can be deconstructed like this because all items of evidence rely on begging the question.

Part seven: The ending’s inconsistencies are not consistent with indoctrination theory.

Let’s look at all the evidence in the ending that supports indoctrination and debunk it, piece by piece. Much of it doesn’t even require the tools we’ve been looking at in this piece.

Harbinger can’t hit Shepard if he’s standing still during the final charge.

The developers didn’t expect you to stand there and let Harbinger shoot at you. How about areas in Mass Effect with infinitely spawning enemies? Is that game design decision also indicative of the real world? Diegesis (also sometimes called meta-concept) is the idea of something happening in the fictional world and something not. For example, when a narrator speaks over a film, it is not actually happening in the world the film takes place in. It is non diegetic. However in many comedies where the characters respond to the narrator, the narration becomes diegetic- and actual part of the world being presented. The same with music. Sometimes music is diegetic- a character is actually listening to it, and other times it is just for background- solely for the benefit of the audience. In some cases the two will blur, for example a character turning up a stereo and the song playing on after the scene finishes (usually starting a montage).

Game mechanics can also be both. Loading a savegame after you die is certainly not diegetic. Raising your gun and shooting at the enemy is though, as it is something happening in the game world. Hit points are non diegetic in Mass Effect as characters do not literally have a life counter with a set of numbers in the game world- it’s just something there for the benefit of the player. With infinitely spawning enemies you are not supposed to think that there is literally an unlimited supply of cannon fodder in the videogame’s universe- it’s a non diegetic element there to create a (often false) challenge.

Harbinger can’t hit you because the game just isn’t programmed that way. Its gunfire is a scripted event making assumptions about how the player will play the game.

The indoctrination theory is inadmissible as again it is begging the question, requiring you to accept indoctrination theory in order to believe this is evidence for indoctrination theory.

Naturally I can’t prove to you that this is the case, but if we apply Ockham’s razor then it works out that way. Only one assumption is made by taking the idea Harbinger’s gunfire is a scripted event (indeed this doesn’t even seem to be an assumption as Harbinger’s gunfire seems to be the same for everyone, in every playthough), and yet indoctrination theory requires us to accept that Harbinger is intentionally missing for some reason, and then fails to explain why.

How does Major Coates fail to see Shepard and Anderson reach the beam?

They don’t seem to reach it. At least Shepard doesn’t at first. Coates is most likely at a distance (assumption, but a fair one as otherwise he would have been involved in the charge and probably dead) and can’t see the killing field clearly. He isn’t going to see every individual soldier on the battlefield. He’s going to see Harbinger sweeping the entire area with its death ray and killing everyone.

Why would Coates issue the fall back order when Harbinger had left the battle?

First of all, you are assuming that Harbinger has actually left the warzone entirely, and not just moved away from the beam towards the next largest concentration of allied forces. It certainly doesn’t look like it is going straight upwards and out of the atmosphere, and of course we see multiple sovereign class Reapers in the ending sequence (I use the singular here intentionally) still fighting against ground forces.

Secondly, the bulk of the ground force was involved in the attack on the beam and they’ve all just been pounded into dust. It’s likely there are no large contingents of allied forces left for another push- Anderson makes it quite clear that this is the big charge. Why would he hold back any units for a second attempt, especially if it’s vital to get Shepard aboard the Citadel?

It is also assumed that there are no more Reaper forces around the beam- despite the fact we see a Marauder and Husks. We only know for certain what is going on in a very narrow corridor of the game- beyond that debris could be anything.

The simplest solution is that Coates has just seen the main part of the ground force turned into an ashen smear across Hyde Park by a new Reaper (I’d remind you the one we just destroyed was the main threat to the charge on the beam in the mission briefing) that has just entered the fray. In the face of dwindling forces and a failed push he has decided called a retreat and hope a new opportunity will present itself instead of leaving any survivors out in the open as easy pickings for the Reapers- as any sane commanding officer would.

Indoctrination theory requires us to accept that this giraffe is in fact a cow before it can provide evidence that the giraffe is a cow (if you don’t get that then go and read part 4 again).

There are shrubs and trees present after Shepard is hit by the beam- trees and shrubs from his dreams.

Your point being? There are trees either side of the ‘corridor’ of the last charge too quite a few if you look in fact. Why do the ‘shrubs’ (which more like twigs to me) appear? Because the developers didn’t think it necessary to put in that level of detail in the far distance when you’ve got so much to focus on in the foreground. Perhaps processing power was also an issue- why render such minor detail when we could be using all our graphics power showing these spectacular explosions and Thanix beams?

Why are the same models? Well we will get to that in a moment...

Not the strongest argument, but the indoctrination theory is weaker as yet again, it relies on us accepting indoctrination theory before the presence of these shrubs can be attributed to indoctrination theory, instead of the simpler expedient of accepting that the designers know that there are trees in London and they decided to put a few there. Maybe the beam was set up in a wide open space like... oh I dunno... a park?

Why does the transport beam lead to an area right next to the controls to open the arms?

You’re assuming that there is only one set of controls to open the arms, and that citadel systems can’t be accessed from more than one area. Apart from that; plot convenience. Shepard has now been crippled and is incapable of anything more than a slow drunken stagger. That section of the game is boring enough without it being even longer just to let me suspend my disbelief. If the panel was 2 kilometres away, what would that add to the game? Nothing except more than dead time.

Indoctrination theory states it’s because this is all part of the final delusion- and of course the only way this works if you accept... do I really need to go on?

Again, this is also confusing diegesis.

You can’t kill the keeper or Anderson despite the fact you have a pistol.

Digenesis yet again. There are very few games that actually DO let you kill a plot critical NPC. Most will try to hide it better (for example you can’t use weapons in Sarif’s office in Deus Ex: Human Revolution), further adding to the idea that the ending was rushed. As for the Keeper, you’ve never been able to kill them. Try and shoot them in the first game and Shepard just shoulders his/her weapon. If I wanted to venture an assumption, I’d say that the keeper is programmed more as part of the level than an NPC.

On a related note, you can't shoot Administrator Anoleas on Noveria either. You can actually shoot him withotu shoudlering your weapon, but your shots go right through him.

Yet again we have a very simple explanation that is in keeping with the evidence on offer in both this game and in videogames in general- and yet again Indoctrination theory relies on us accepting that Shepard was indoctrinated before we can accept this as proof of his indoctrination.

The Citadel is made of parts from scenery in other Mass Effect games, including the Shadow Broker’s ship and Collector ship.

Yeah, I hate to break it to you but videogame designers re use textures, models and other facade elements all the time. Videogame levels are not like canvas painted from scratch, but more often than not designers have access to a set of ‘building blocks’ and construct a level from those- occasionally creating new ‘blocks’ if needed. It’s called object oriented design. If you really need an example of this, look no further than Dragon Age 2 and the two caves recycled for the entire game. This also applies to the trees and ‘shrubs’ we see in the ending sections around the beam. They are just recycled models. As for the parts coming from other games, if more than one game is built using the same development tools, then parts can even be recycled between games.

Even if we assume that indoctrination theory is correct, Ockham’s razor blows this evidence out of the water- this is a well known and established method of game design. You can see it in any documentary, or even get hold of mod tools for Skyrim, Fallout: NV or Starcraft 2 and try it yourself. If you really want to push the point then the Unreal Development Kit is free- give it a try.

Anderson couldn’t reach the terminal before Shepard. There was only one path leading to that room.

Anderson states the citadel has been moving around and re arranging itself. We see it happening. This is just refusing to accept the obvious. Anderson has also been moving longer than Shepard has- he actually wakes Shepard up on the comms.

Shepard hears Reaper voices as he approaches Anderson. This is them trying to indoctrinate him.

Where is the Reaper? If the Citadel itself was capable of indoctrinating people, then this game would have been over before it even started. It’s more likely that this is an audio representation of whatever form of control the Illusive man is exerting on the two (I honestly don’t think it actually sounds like a Reaper either).

I would also like to point out that indoctrination is not direct physical control, which is what we appear to be seeing in this scene.

And if the Reaper is near the beam and Shepard is actually unconscious (as one claimant said) and can exert indoctrination through that, then it invalidates the point of Major Coates withdrawing ground forces. There’s another bloody Reaper there and the force is fresh out of Thanix missiles.

That whole scene between Shepard, the Illusive man and Anderson is a metaphorical struggle- everything after the beam hits Shepard takes place in Shepard’s own head.

Even if this scene is open to interpretation, again we come back to the issue of begging the question. The scene can only be interpreted as Shepard fighting the control of the Reapers if we actually accept that Shepard is fighting control of the Reapers. The ability to point at the Illusive man and say ‘He represents the part of Shepard’s mind that’s been indoctrinated, Anderson represents the part that is still resisting’- is not evidence. It is only interpretation of symbolism, and only interpreted correctly if the indoctrination theory is true. Otherwise we have no evidence to suggest that what we see going on is anything other than... well... what we see going on.

One item of ‘evidence’ I really enjoyed with this theory was the fact Anderson seems to direct his “Listen to yourself, you’re indoctrinated!” comment to Shepard rather than the Illusive man. Except that Anderson and Shepard can barely stand under the control of the Illusive man, let alone turn their heads and the Illusive man is standing by Anderson’s side at the time.

There is no evidence at all that this is how indoctrination plays out. What we hear about the indoctrination process is more akin to subliminal messages, passive hypnosis, cognitive and behavioural manipulation, ‘nudge’ tactics and false reasoning. Indoctrination is always inferred to be a literal process, a literal idea that slowly a person’s mind and reasoning is being subverted, redirected and subtly influenced to favour a certain mindset. This is all done in reality, with the person conscious and awake, not played out in some coma dream inside the victim’s head.

I’m going to draw the line here with regards to the ending as I’m just going to keep repeating myself. After this point the Indoctrination theory pretty much just devolves into interpreting symbolism and almost every point can still be countered by the simple expedient of begging the question. Before I do though, there is one last point I’d like to make, and that is the fact that indoctrination theory insists that all endings bar ‘destroy all synthetics’ (both of them) are false. This is totally indicative of the standard behaviour of the conspiracy theorist mindset- acknowledge the evidence against you, brush it aside and then get back to reeling off your own and fast talking the audience.

Oh and as for why the paragon/renegade colours are apparently inverted on the ending? It may have escaped your notice that the ‘renegade colour’ option (destroy the Reapers) also wipes out all other synthetic life. Including the Geth and most likely your friend, EDI. Sounds pretty renegade to me. The fact that this ending is also the only one you can survive adds to that notion- you’re murdering an entire civilization and a close friend (the partner of someone who has been with you since the start of your journey no less) - just to save your own skin. With control, you nobly sacrifice yourself to save everyone while ending the Reaper threat- very paragon. The only way to counter this is to assume that indoctrination theory is true first. Ergo the changing of the colours is not evidence for indoctrination theory; it is just wilful misinterpretation of obvious information.

Part eight: Debunking evidence from outside the ending sequence.

This evidence set is the only part of the Indoctrination theory that actually makes any sort of sense. And even then it’s really weak.

The Rachni queen and her oily songs.

First, there is one sentence from the Rachni queen in Mass Effect 1: "No. We... I do not know what happened in the war. We only heard discordance. Songs the colour of oily shadows."

Of course, Shepard has dreams in Mass Effect 3 that are dark and shadowy. Ergo, he was undergoing indoctrination. This really is the pinnacle of wilful disbelief. There is no connection to be had here, none at all. Let’s take a look and see why.

First off, in human terms the Rachni all have Synaesthesia. Their worldview is populated by colour and sound. All the Rachni dialogue is extremely visually orientated in description and aurally oriented when describing ideas. This much is obvious from any interaction with them. This brings us to our first point- there is nothing unusual about a Rachni describing something with visual language, even if said thing is not actually a visible object. In other words, we’re not supposed to take the Rachni literally in their language. But hey, let’s assume we are.

Second point. I do believe that it’s possible the Rachni queen in Mass Effect 1 discusses indoctrination:

Shepard: “Are you a survivor from the War? A clone?”

Queen: “We do not know. We were only an egg, hearing our Mother cry in our dreams. A tone from space hushed one voice after another. It forced the singers to resonate with its own sour yellow note. Then we awoke, in this place. The last echo of those who came out from the singing planet. The sky is silent.”

Rachni appear to communicate through song, and possibly some form of limited telepathy. The idea of something forcing ‘singers to resonate with its own note’, and ‘hush[ing] one voice after another’ sounds a lot like it could be indoctrination to me. It’s in keeping with the themes of indoctrination not being so much outright control, as manipulating subject’s views and motives to coincide with that of the Reapers- to ‘resonate’ with them, if you will. The word ‘hushed’ is also significant as it suggest the quiet silencing of a thought/person, as opposed to something more firm like ‘silenced’. It’s a weak link, but it is certainly possible.

Only problem here is that the note described is a sour yellow one, not oily black. Watch the video sequence if you don’t believe me.

Maybe it makes more sense if we put the Oily Shadows bit into context.

Shepard: “If I let you go, will you attack other races?”

Queen: “No. We- I do not know what happened in the war. We only heard discordance, songs the colour of oily shadows. We would seek a hidden place to teach our children harmony. If they understand, perhaps we would return.”

How does that relate to indoctrination? It doesn’t. To me, discordance would indicate chaos- I.E war, death, suffering, pain and so forth. Indoctrination isn’t chaotic by its very nature- it’s a slow, creeping process. However, if you want to imagine war aural form, I somewhat doubt it’s going to me harmonious. If I was going to ascribe a colour to misery, pain and death (I.E War), oily black sounds like a good one. Maybe really deep dark red- but most likely black.

If we apply Ockham’s razor, the conclusion is clear- neither statement can be outright linked to indoctrination, but sour yellow note’s language is more controlling and dominating, ergo it is the one most likely to be linked to indoctrination.

Therefore the link between the indoctrination of the Rachni and proposed indoctrination of Shepard is utterly discredited. Shepard’s dreams are just dark, scary nightmares.

There is one possible exception though. If indoctrination theory is true, then that means Shepard’s dreams are of course linked more closely to the Rachni Queen’s speech related to oily black songs, and so the loop is established. Only problem of course is- yep, you guessed it- this means we’re begging the question, and so that idea needs to be thrown out.

Indoctrination by contact with Reaper tech.

Okay I really don’t get this one. I mean, I understand the idea perfectly, but I don’t see how it can be applied. First of all, I’ve only been able to find two examples of indoctrination being performed by anything other than an actual Reaper. There was one side mission back in Mass Effect 1 where it is inferred that an artefact picked up by the MSV Cornucopia brainwashed the crew. The origins of this artefact are never stated, so we don’t know if it was Reaper tech. Aside from that, Object Rho also appears to have indoctrinated staff in the Arrival DLC. Aside from that, nothing. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that a Reaper can create an item that is capable of indoctrinating people, or that pieces of Reaper can have the same effect.

Why does Saren need the conduit? Why doesn’t he just request a meeting with the council to discuss ‘an urgent matter’, walk into the meeting, slip the indoctrination device under the table, or even better have it built into his clothing (or even his own body), and just keep them talking over the course of several long meetings over a few days? We know that indoctrination can take place very quickly (at the expense of the subject’s long term survival odds) but why would Saren or Sovereign give a crap? Just brainwash the council (they obviously trust him) and have them shut down the citadel’s defences so Sovereign can attack. Or aim lower and spend a lot of time with Executor Palin and indoctrinate him instead.

Problem solved. Soverign doesn’t even need to leave Saren that much free will- he just needs enough marbles to keep the target talking.*

*Edit- I've been accused of making a logical leap here, but I do not think that is the case. It's basic extrapolation with a single strong link from A and B, not some poorly connected slippery slope nonsense. I created this set up to demonstrate that if just any piece of Repaer tech can indoctrinate someone, then the game is pretty much over before it starts. As such we can't assume that Shepard is exposed to indcotrination every time he encounters anything even tangentaly connected to the Reapers.

I’m obviously making an assumption here, namely that that small items of Reaper tech can't indoctrinate people (we are enver outright told where the line is drawn). However if it is possible to indcotrinate people with small devices then it means it never occurred to Sovereign or Saren to undertake this very simple plan. Hell in theory Saren doesn’t even need to indoctrinate anyone high up- leave an artefact in a public area and wait a few days: instant mob. If he could indoctrinate Sha’ira...

Of course, the other potential option is that Bioware’s writers just didn’t think of this option. and that's fair, I can't disprove that- but lack of confirmation either way is a sword that cuts both ways. I can only point out the implications of what would happen if any item of Reaper tech could indoctrinate someone and observe how the don't transpire in the game. But to reiterate one last time, it may just be the writers didn't think of that usage of a plot tool.

The dead Reaper indoctrinating people I can understand. Maybe some of its systems are still active, whatever. The point is we are clearly shown that dead Reapers can still indoctrinate people. But I’ve searched hard to find solid evidence that artefacts can do the same.

I have not been able to find any evidence outside of that one mission in Mass Effect 1 and object Rho in Arrival that artefacts existing independently of Reapers can actually cause indoctrination.

That leaves the only sources of indoctrination being direct contact with the Reapers themselves (again, no evidence that Husks and collectors can cause indoctrination). Let’s be generous and say that communication with a Reaper is also contact.

· We’ve got a fleeting glance of Sovereign on Eden Prime (seconds)

· Communication with Sovereign on Virmire (Minutes perhaps?)

· Boarding the derelict Reaper (Forty five minutes tops?)

· Communication with Harbinger via possessed minions. (I don’t think that this should count but I’m including it anyway, let’s say in real combat time maybe 15 hours?)

· The reaper base (at the very least you’re near a larval Reaper- an hour)

· Near Reapers escaping earth (half an hour)

· Fight with a Reaper on Tuckanka (half an hour, including time just spent near it?)

· Last attack in London (An hour maybe in real time. Let’s say three hours in game time?)

Even if we are generous with our rounding, Shepard’s continued contact with an actual Reaper is less than 24 hours. Shepard could be a little indoctrinated by this I suppose, but the evidence on display here is very weak.

Even if we take artefacts into account, Shepard doesn’t seem to spend that long in the presence of any single Reaper artefact. To be honest, the only one I can think of is object Rho- and even then it’s only a few hours*. Shepard is fighting the Reapers in all three games, but primarily through their agents and machinations- not the Reapers themselves.

*Edit- Shepard is infact out cold for 2 days from Object Rho. That's still only three days of exposure tops, but still not enough time to indoctrinate someone (which apparently takes at least a week).

Finally, let’s assume that indoctrination can have a notable effect in the space of a day (Even though Benezia, states that it takes at least a week of living inside Sovereign to become indoctrinated). Why do the other characters not show signs of it? Garrus, with his black and white morality, disregard for procedure and willingness to do what’s needed to get results would be the perfect target for indoctrination. He’s already working in extremes; he already has dubious morality- surely a mind like that would break before Shepard’s? Plus, he’s been with Shepard since the beginning- he’s had as much exposure to Reaper technology as Shepard has.

How about Liara? Again, she has been with Shepard since the start and has had as much exposure to Reaper technology as he has had. If you want to talk baseless evidence, look at her change in personality from the first game to the second. She’s gone from bookish demure scientists to fucking Scarface. She’s been around a while too; maybe bits of Reaper tech have been left lying around at Prothean sites from the last cycle? This is all supposition of course, nothing more. However you can’t escape the fact that these two have been exposed to as much Reaper tech as Shepard (possibly more) and have less well balanced, more easily manipulated minds. If indoctrination was taking place, wouldn’t they fall first?

I can’t outright refute this evidence, but as it stands at the moment I think it’s just too weak to be admissible. There are too many questions left unanswered, and I just don’t think that based on what we’ve seen in the game Shepard has had enough exposure to indoctrination sources to be suffering anything more than a mild headache.

The ghost boy ‘Starchild’.

There is a link here (unlike the Rachni queen argument), but it is even weaker than the contact with Reaper Tech evidence.

First off, this theory has its roots in a single line of codex information which states that people being indoctrinated may suffer from hallucinations and ghostly presences.

First off, you really need to push the definition of ghostly presence here. To me (and to be frank I think to anyone who hasn’t had indoctrination theory suggested to them), the idea of a ghostly presence resulting from indoctrination relates more to a feeling of being watched, of thinking there’s someone in the next room and so forth. A hallucination doesn’t necessarily mean a vision. Hallucination means the perception of almost anything without there being a true external stimulus to trigger it. For example, feeling a chill wind on a warm, calm day is an example of a hallucination. Even just feeling creeped out for now reason is a hallucination.

I find the interpretation of the ‘ghostly presence’ as the boy to be extremely jarring with the idea of indoctrination in general. It’s always described as a creeping, insidious process. A slow but totally unstoppable decent into servitude taking place without most victims ever realizing it. When you consider that, which interpretation of the symptom seems more likely: Phantom presences and feelings of being watched, or a fully formed, perfectly detailed hallucination of a child?

The thematic link between the former and indoctrination suggests that it is the stronger connection between those two ideas.

Again, this smells strongly of begging the question- If the ending wasn’t riddled with those bizarre inconsistencies, would be ever have suspected this child was a hallucination?

I doubt it. The child is presented as very solid and real- we even see him playing around outside before the Reaper attack. The vent scene is a little odd, but I’d hardly call that one moment evidence that the child isn’t real when we compare it to the presentation of the kid up to that point.

Same with the kid getting on the shuttle. No one’s helping him- okay it’s a little odd but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t real. When we see him he’s pretty much onto the shuttle anyway. The soldier standing next to him may very well be more concerned with keeping a look out for the husks, and the other people in the shuttle possibly have their own problems (and family) to worry about. Despite what the movies show you, most people are not really all that altruistic when their own necks are on the line.

This is based on assumption, but unless we’re willing to really push the definition of language and suspend the theme of indoctrination in doing so, we’re still left with only circumstantial evidence that the child isn’t real, and even if the child isn’t real it requires a large leap of logic to link him to indoctrination.

Again I can’t point to anything and use it to categorically disprove the child’s link to indoctrination, but the evidence on show that the child is something other than just a regular child put there by the writers to symbolize Earth and everything Shepard is fighting for (Like Mordin Solus’ nephew), is very circumspect. This is further reinforced by the fact there’s no link between his dreams about the child and the process of indoctrination as related to the Rachni queen.

Part nine: Indoctrinating ourselves into ignorance.

So there we have it. The guts of the beast are laid open for all to see. None of the evidence presented to support indoctrination theory’s role in the ending is capable of standing up to close scrutiny. The evidence outside of the ending is also sketchy at best.

We’ve also explored something far more important- the logical fallacies and bad thought patterns that people use to insulate themselves from evidence that proves something contrary to what they want to believe. That is why I wrote this piece. People who believe the indoctrination theory are unlikely to ever let that belief go. It’s come to serve a purpose that is far too useful for them- to deny a crappy ending and also to feel superior to the people who ‘don’t see what’s happening’.

But hopefully at the very least some readers will learn a thing or two about critical thinking and analysis- not to accept that Mass Effect 3’s ending was just poorly written, but to learn an important skill in life. While we may be heavily invested in Mass Effect, at the end of the day it is only a story. Stories are important of course, they define us, our hopes, our dreams and our culture. They inspire us, they support us, they help us to see the world and ourselves in new ways. But ultimately all this is pointless if we cannot accept reality. Accepting reality doesn’t need to mean we need to stop acting against things we don’t like, or even things we may not be able to change. It means having the courage to accept the horrible, the atrocious and the vile as things that actually happen. Only then can we do something about them. If we cannot even allow ourselves to accept a bad ending to a work of fiction, how can we accept suffering, pain, corruption, extremism and totalitarianism in our own, real lives? If we cannot accept it is real, how can we change it?

The Mass Effect 3 indoctrination theory is only proving one thing- that people are capable of forming the most complex, intricate fabric of fallacious information and poor reasoning to weave a safety blanket against things they just don’t want to accept as true. It shows that people are happy to indoctrinate themselves against the world around them, without the aid of a vast alien mind. When we have the gift to understand and analyze the world around us, the fact people choose not to is the biggest let down of all.

Thanks for reading.

17 Response to "Indoctrinating Ourselves Into Ignorance: An Exploration Of The Failings Of Both Human Reason And The Indoctrination Theory Of Mass Effect 3’s Ending"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Everything well pointed out. Just a few remarks.

    - There is no technical reason to doubt that the endings are fake, bar the fact that they suck. The prothean VI in TIM office describes the Crucible project as the layered work of several civilizations, which at some point had the Citadel added as Catalyst. Then it describes the Citadel like this: ""The Catalyst enhances dark energy trasmissions and cohordinates the entire mass relay network. In your cycle it is known as the Citadel" So, it is plausible that whoever chose the Citadel as the Catalyst wished the Crucible power spread in th galaxy by means of the mass relays, and i find likely and/or at least acceptable that they would consequently pop for overcharging after shooting that power surge. So the ending is coherent with ingame information.

    - About selective attention. Many indoc theorists say that the Starchild/Harbinger is bluffing, just outright lying at you because he wants you to choose Control (like TIM) or Synthesys (like Saren). The point is, what the Starchild says about what the Reapers all are for is confirmed (or best said, first stated) by the very Reapers, all the time. They want to make huamns ascend in form of a reaper, and they want to protect organics from synthetics. This is first said by Sovereign, repeated by Harbinger all along ME2, and lastly confirmed by the dying Reaper on Rannoch. Not appealing? Yes. On the far background all the time? Yes. Doesnt strike like a major plot until the very last 10 minutes? Yes. Is it in contradiction with the fact we just made Quarians and Geth make peace and that EDI is just trolling but she isnt really a menace for her friends? No, it is not: the historical perspective of a nearly million year old superbly intelligent being is a little wider than 3 days ago. From their perspective, it works, probably: this is what ME world creators wanted to be true, and we must abide. This is also going back to ME1, where we are told a volus had a dream about sparkling creatures that would come to save us from synthetics. This is what they (Bioware, that is) wanted from the start, and failed to deliver plotwise. Does t suck? Big time. But it is not enough to run and hide in delusion.

    - Last remark. An indoctrination theory is supported by the fact that the evil EA wanted to sell us stuff that had to be in the game by the start, milking us players for as much money as it can (re: day-1 DLC). So, they stripped the real ending out of the game so that they can sell us the real ending. Point is, a month has passed, and no real ending DLC had been released. In the meanwhile, not a day passes without gaming and general media covers the riots in the community about ME3 ending and how it sucks, while presumably a lot of copies are being brought back to Gamestop or Amazon/Origin in disgust. Is it possible that a company can suffer for this horrendous PR and commercial disaster, having the solution in its pocket all the time? Sure one can argue that due to closing due date, they didnt made it in time to make the Real Ending DLC, but now it's a month after release date, the game was golden three months ago: it's quite a long period of time to write and code a DLC that brings closure to ME...


    Anonymous says:

    Just the last note about DLC Arrival. This DLC is often brought as the best place where Shepard could have been indoctrinated, since (and it seems you have missied the point) he remains unconscious for two months after being defeated by the Rho project security personnel: thus, Shepard remained for two months in proximity of an indoctrinating repaer artifact in vulnerable conditions.

    If this would look like as one of the best indoc theory proof (the leading man of humanity resistance is sleeping for two months near an indoctrinating reaper artifact! why would they miss the chance to mess with his brain?), it is also the weaker of them all.

    No DLC in ME galaxy is compulsory: the final outcome is always the same in its effects, but playing it in first person as Shepard or not changes your personal file. So if you play or not Arrival, the batarian solar system still blows up, but instead of you, the Marines would do the dirty job, losing a third of their forces in doing so as you can see on the War Assets infopage. As such, Liara is still the shadow broker even if you dont play the DLC, EDI goes nuts on Luna base even though you dont shut her personally down in the relevant DLC, et cetera.

    If shepard indoctrination were integral part of ME story, his sleepnig hugging Object Rho as a teddy bear would have been compulsory no matter what. Instead he is simply grounded for working for/with cerberus until Reapers strike Earth.

    Ergo: no indoctrination is involved.

    Or course the IT is grasping for straws, but with the situation at hand, what else is to expect. Casey Hudson wanted "lots of speculation from everyone", and he got it. But then the fans are basically told that they're naive for reading a deeper meaning into the last sequence, yet at the same time should be thankful for the "Adam and Eve" reference when the Normandy crashes, and wrap their head around "the Shepard". In other words: Go speculate somewhere else.

    Anyways, this mystery will eventually solve itself in a few days, so thanks for the interresting and logical good read!

    two months?

    no it was two days bro

    also dude you are a dick! you are being insulting towards people who have made this theory, and you yourself are making logical leaps!

    For example, you ask "why wouldnt saren call an emergency meeting and plant an indoctrination device"

    I dont know, why wouldnt he use his magic person-freezing powers like the illusive man used!

    I am pretty sure they didn't intend the indoctrination thing, but the theory is intricate enough that I am positive they are going to use it to retcon away the current crap-ending

    jlpicrdh says:

    Great article. One minor point - when Shepard arrives at the base in the Arrival DLC, there are 2 days before the Reaper invasion. When he wakes up after being knocked unconscious, there are 2 hours left. That's at least 46 hours, more than "a few", during which he was unconscious, exposed to an artifact that is known to be able to induce indoctrination, not to mention at the mercy of all the indoctrinated staff.

    I like Indoctrination Theory as a way of making the ending more palatable, and I think that if Bioware does do a new ending, they should absolutely use it to lead into the new end.

    I even think that it's possible that Bioware could have been heading in this direction. That would explain several details - the use of the shrubs, the reason why no one reacts to the kid in the beginning. I don't think it's likely, but it is possible.

    In either case - whether they intended to go that direction at some point, or if it's nothing more than an example of the fans being more creative than Bioware - I don't think the ending as it is is intended to be anything other than literal. That actually happened, and Bioware just f'ed up at the last minute. The caught the ball deep in their own endzone, ran it all the way down the field, and fumbled the ball inches from the goal line. It's sad, but it happens. The question now is what will they do to fix it (if anything)?

    Trung says:

    Great article although a little bit patronising outro though.

    The writers intended "speculation for everyone" and that's what we got. Teh indoctrination theory is a pretty good fan made interpretation of the ending and it is the least problematic way to rationalised why Shepard behaved out of character at the end.

    Did the writers intend it, no and people who go around calling Bioware genious and then criticising people for not getting it should be rightfully criticised. You really shouldn't put all the people in the same basket though.

    There are two ways you can analyse work, literary method which is to treats the game as a mere "depiction", or "dramatic re-enactment" of a world which exists only in the author's mind. Tehrefore whatever Bioware intends is important because it is there world etc.

    However there is the suspension of disbelief that treats the game as a visual representation of what commander shepard sees. Whatever the writers intended or not is irrelevant. We see Shepard meet up with the main villain of the game who controlled the reapers and was responsible for all the problems throughout the series. We see Shepard be compliant to the main villain , refuse to criticised or show any outrage etc, refuse to demand more information and proof to any assertion given by the catalyst and then accept everything the catalyst and then actively work with the catalyst to further the goal

    How do we explain it, literary method - bad writing, the writers wanted a specific ending and shoehorn the character to get the ending they want, suspension of disbelief, Shepard was indoctrinated and that's why Shepard was compliant to the starchild at the end.

    the writers didn't intend it but it's the best explanation in explaining what we see on the screen.

    So yss, I don't believe Bioware intended the indoctrination theory but seriously the idea that people are wasting their time with the theory is untrue. Analysing works of fiction is quite a fun thing to do and is expected if you treat the work of fiction as art.

    In my mind, i don't believe indoctrination theory to be true from a writer intent. However I do believe that if Bioware intends to have an ending DLC. Then they would create a lot of good will if they co-opt the indoctrination theory (and admit that they co-opt it and tell the fans, thanks for the idea, they burned a lot of bridges with the current ending and this may well be a step to rebuild it) and have Shepard wake up ffom the sreets of london and just rewrite an ending that makes sense.

    Wolfpaws says:

    A question. What is the link between Catalyst and the little kid? I mean why the Catalyst is in the form of a child Shepard sees.
    Also counldn't Cerberus put some reaper based tech during Project Lazarus?

    Evis T says:

    @Wolfpaws With the catalyst appearing as the kid? I have no idea. The only theory I can come up with is that the catalyst is somehow trying to subvery Shepard and put him off ease by appearing in a form that's been haunting him. This is entirely supposition though. We are never really told what the catalyst even *is*, let alone if it can appear in multiple ways or how it can appear in multiple ways or... well.. anything. It's a big part of the problem- we've got this big left turn at the end of the game, a new villain is essentially introduced and we know nothing, absoloutely nothing about it. No concrete motivation (why do you need the Reapers if I can broker peace between the Gth and Quarians?), no nature, nothing. At this point with a complete lack of any actual facts presented in game, anyone's supposition on this character is as good as anyone elses. However without any established facts or information, it is just that- supposition.

    As for Lazarus and Reaper tech, again there is no evidence or information anywhere to support the idea that Shepard was laced with bits of Reaper. The fact it doesn't state that shepard *doesn't* have reaper tech in him is neither here nor there- it's still just supposition and stretching the point quite a bit at that. Namely, why would the Illusive man put Reaper tech into Shepard- especially if he knows about indoctrination?

    LSWSjr says:

    Also in regards to the idea of Lazarus and Reaper tech, Dr. Chakwas can conduct a test of Shephard in ME3 which doesn't find any evidence of similar tech to those in the "upgraded" Cerberus troops. This doesn't deny the possiblity, but depending on what the test involved it may very well dispute it.

    With that said, I'd just like to add a few points as someone who has himself been "indoctrinated" by Indoctrination Theory.

    Object Rho bears some similarities to the "Arca Monolith" encountered by the Illusive Man (giving him the blue mechanical eyes, amongst other things), Saren and Saren's brother during the First Contact War, in Mass Effect: Evolution; and also with the "Indoctrination Device" encountered in the ME2 mission N7: Abandoned Mine.

    Both devices were shown to have great power for, at times, rapid indoctrination and even Husk transformation with a blast from it, in the case of the Arca Monolith. Considering that Shephard gets hit by Object Rho and then spends two days surrounded by those indoctrinated by it, who may have been enhancing/projecting the signal (as suggested by the indoctrination process outlined in the Codex), is indoctrination not a strong possibilty for Shephard?

    The "Starchild" is still a huge unknown, who as you said we essentially know nothing about it (and still may never). It's symbolic in nature, but for the Catalyst to be able to take that form, why can't it be a sign that the child was a creation of ongoing indoctrination or trauma (see below).

    Lastly a friend of mine recently suggested another theory to explain the endings, which uses similar evidence to Indoctrination Theory, but works regardless of the player having participated in "The Arrival DLC". His theory instead suggests that the endings represent the effects of war and stress, especially PTSD which is also a theme presented many times during the game.

    The ending instead may represent the consciousness of a dying Shephard who's mind is just trying to give a sense of relief and closure in response to severe trauma and to escape everything that they're had to endure prior to now. The secret "Shephard's alive" ending in this case may represent Shephard not giving up and continuing to function past their mental breaking point.

    This also explains why the Catalyst only gives Shephard the destroy option in some poorly performed play throughs. It's the most readily effecient way to deal with their suffering once and for all without really thinking of a better option.

    Anywho, just my two cents and regardless you presented a strong article.
    That said, part of me believes that even if Indoctrination Theory isn't true, Bioware will probably run with it for any ending altering DLC just because it's the most readily held theory (beyond "the ending was rushed" or "the ending was artistic expression").

    Narktor says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Narktor says:

    One tip: Dont start comparing literature/fiction with reality/facts.
    I read several counter Indoc theories. Im not a member of the indoc-club, but the indoc theory has opened paths for Bioware to turn the tide...they didnt use it.

    Mostly YOU are ASSUMING, that the indoc ASSUMPTION, is only an ASSUMPTION, because you ASSUMPT that your interpretation of the story makes more sense than that of the indoc Theorist. Thereby you did the same fault as those you are blaming.

    The use of ockhams razor is just ONE method to decide over INTERPRETATIONAL QUESTIONS.
    It is not the razors job to decide over the quality and reason of an interpretation. Do you know Rilke? Do you know some of his poems? Like the Panther? Heres a link, both german and english version available there.

    Do you know whats the straightest interpretation? Yes. Dont put a panther into a cage. So, the message would be not to put a panther into a cage, but you can do so with other animals. Or you spread it to all animals, so dont put animals into a cage.

    Or you spread it to any living being. Which is the correct interpretation referring to science. So please stop exploiting analytic tools you dont understand the real purpose of! For example "Hans Baluschek (1870-1935) is critizized for interpreting the poem "The Linden Tree" from Eichendorff too one-dimensional: Picture

    Theres so much desire in this poem which stands between the lines, and the artist simply constructed the scenery, without caring of all the emotions contained in this poem. The maybe worst case scenario for your use of ockhams razor would happen when interpreting texts of Kafka. Read some of them and give word by word interpretations. Awful outcome i can promise. Just stick to your skills, and dont roam around in literature as if it was a thing to handle the same as a screw wrench, which indeed has ONE CLEAR PURPOSE!

    So, i dont feel bothered too much by people like you who disprove the indoc theory. The funny thing is, that anyone of you insults people who established it/believe it. Do we insult you because you dont get a clue on the literary fallacies of Bioware? Here, take this link, its a completely objective analysis of the ME3 Ending by an AUTHOR, who has profound narratological knowledge:
    Also, if you insult people for using their spare time to rage over ME3, why do you assume they lost contact to reality? What would you propose we should do eh? Filling even more of our lives with working for others? None of us working folks, especially those with family, can move mountains in the world. Everyone does what he can to bear his life, and if he finds contemplation and consolidation in a fiction, leave him be! He does a lot for all of us, he pays for his place in society, so fucking stop treating us like social rubbish! WE ARE SOCIAL!

    But this is our hobby, and EA charged us for a trilogy they literally screwed up. This ending has no artful aspects in it except the pictures, which are also mediocre.

    Sry, but my opinion of you after reading this article is that you are a person full of hatred and disregard for people! Your pretendious "good-human" behaviour is disgusting, your whole article blames and insults people, you are not objective, you are offending!

    rcj says:

    Dude, why aren't you working at the white house or something? This thesis is amazing.

    I'd started writing something about supposition vs proposition, begging the question vs making a hypothesis, logical fallacy vs common literary fallacies (like the hero's journey), author ownership vs audience ownership... then the page reloaded and I lost it. Bah.

    So instead I shall just say:

    Bioware totally just write atrocious garbage sometimes, for no deeper reason than because while they're decent writers, they're not really GREAT writers. If you don't believe me, play Neverwinter Nights :p

    I haven't played ME3, but based on their back catalogue, I'd sooner ascribe to Bioware a rushed, poorly-written ending than a subtle, subversive and provocative one.

    lekoag says:

    Failing to realize that the article itself is a beautiful example of your "indoctrination".

    Your main argument lies in the fact that it all comes down to bad writing/programming. For me it's the easy way out. Yes, noone denies the fact that ME3 was rushed. But is this enough to justify every strange thing that is happening in this game, especially in the end? I don't think so.

    In part seven of your article, you try to debunk the evidence that have been provided for indoctrination. However, intentionally or not, you manage to leave out the three most important reasons as to why the ending may not be what it seems to be.
    - Right from the start, we see Shephard having some strange interaction with a child. In the most apparent way possible, it is presented in a way for us to question whether the child is real or not. It seems that it's all in Shephard's head, and whoever denies that has no clue how directing a scene works. So, what is the meaning of this?
    - Throughout ME3 Shephard keeps seeing the same strange nightmare, which involves the child. Many believe that's just the way of the writers letting us know how the hero is agonizing over his actions. But that is not the way the writers would depict that. If they were aiming at smth like that, it would be far more dramatic, and simple in its own way, to show us scenes from previous deaths, losses, even the destruction of an entire solar system. And more importantly different nightmares. In every book, movie, game, especially in Sci-Fi, when someone is dreaming the same dream, over and over again, it only means one thing. This dream is important and it has a serious meaning. Or in many cases it's not even
    a dream, it's a vision of some kind. So, again we see that the writers are trying to make us understand that smth is going on in Shephard's head, and it is not just guilt.
    - But these repeating dreams, also serve an other great purpose; it's to familiarize the player with the dream state, the concept of the very slow movement, and the innability to run/leave this state.
    Why in the final moments of ME3, we are presented with the exact same state of a dream? The obvious answer would be: cause Shephard is wounded, he can't run and he is ready to pass out. And it would be a logical answer if we hadn't been provided with clues throughout the game.
    It's not about the hero being wounded. It's about the hero (and the player) being in a weird state. It's about the hero having infinite bullets, communicating with people he shouldn't have been able to, seeing/hearing things that have no meaning, interacting with a character he's been seeing in his dreams, over and over again. It's about the hero being in a state of dream/trance.

    For anyone to believe that the answer, to why all of the above are happening, is simple a bad writing/bad programming thing, then he himself is being "indoctrinated". Denying seeing what's in front of him, for the sake of his own beliefs.
    So why haven't I mentioned the "indoctrination theory"? Simple because I have no reason to do so. Noone can tell for sure if the theory is correct, because there will never be enough evidence to prove it. (After all, although a well-thought theory, it's just a theory).
    What I strongly believe is, that there's definetely something there, and it's not that simple as bad writing or time constraints. Maybe Bioware was planning an expansion with the "real" ending as it was done in a recent Prince Of Persia. Maybe they were planning a "twist" in the game where Shephard wakes up and the actual fight begins, but because of time constraints, some "genius" decided that the dream qualified as a decent end. Who knows?
    Hopefully, time will tell...

    lupa559 says:

    I don't think you fully understood IT actually. You made a few errors on their points. One being "Let’s start by looking at the fact that characters with you during the final fight appear on the Normandy in some endings.
    Indoctrination theory states that this is because they were not actually with you, but on the Normandy the whole time." That isn't what IT says, it says the exact opposite. IT says that they weren't on the Normandy. That whole scene, every single thing we saw after Harbinger's laser hits Shepard is just Shepard's mind fighting with the indoctrination. Everything which happened up till the laser was real.

    Anonymous says:

    What's more, you're begging your own question.

    "What if it wasn't rushed?" With that one question, your *entire* counter argument falls apart.

    But let's hit some of these counter evidence:

    "Anderson states the citadel has been moving around and re arranging itself. We see it happening. This is just refusing to accept the obvious. Anderson has also been moving longer than Shepard has- he actually wakes Shepard up on the comms."

    No, we don't. We see NO moving walls in the Citadel.

    Also, if Anderson *did* beat Shepard up the beam (which is what you insinuate) why didn't anyone see him. If he didn't (like he claims - he followed her up here); why didn't anyone else see Shepard go up?

    Elsewhere: "Yeah, I hate to break it to you but videogame designers re use textures, models and other facade elements all the time. Videogame levels are not like canvas painted from scratch, but more often than not designers have access to a set of ‘building blocks’ and construct a level from those- occasionally creating new ‘blocks’ if needed. It’s called object oriented design. If you really need an example of this, look no further than Dragon Age 2 and the two caves recycled for the entire game. This also applies to the trees and ‘shrubs’ we see in the ending sections around the beam. They are just recycled models. As for the parts coming from other games, if more than one game is built using the same development tools, then parts can even be recycled between games."

    But that's the point. None of the Mass Effects share a graphical engine. Yet the models are recoded exactly the same way. That's not laziness - that's extra work.

    I gift you the rank of Sci-Fi Souffle. Looks nice, but falls apart after a brief poke.

    Brash says:

    Utter pretentious drivel from someone who probably never paid attention in Lit class. Your inability to process the ending in a metaphoric way is incalculably obtuse. You can't approach literature with the scientific mind or scientific tools.

    Lastly, comparing a literary interpretation (which is a synonym of the word theory) of Mass Effect 3's ending (ME series is a storytelling series afterall, not a mindless shooter, so there is room for an unreliable narrator and an extended metaphor) to a 9/11 conspiracy theory is completely asinine and equates to Ad Hominem. You can't even compare it to a religion since the ME series is not intended to be a religious document.

    I.T. is people coming together to explore the themes, characters, lore, symbolism, and metaphors and how they culminate in the ending. In that way, it is more like participating in a book club or doing an in-class assignment analyzing literature for meaning and deeper truths. It is nothing like a bunch of 9/11 Truther hipsters sitting in Starbucks loudly discussing how likely it is that the U.S. Government perpetrated 9/11 on its own citizens. It is even less like a gathering of spiritual people coming together to commune with a being or beings they believe in.

    I.T. is simply a literary interpretation of a story element in a game series where the player is meant to think deeply about the story's themes and meanings. Occam's Razor cannot be used on it because Occam's Razor is a scientific tool. Stories often have hidden meanings ( applying Occam's Razor to them makes the reader create a barrier to understanding the truths of human existence included in the text at the expense of taking the story at face value.

    If I was your English Lit Professor, I would give you a very pointed D- on this thesis with a long explanation proclaiming why you absolutely fail at interpreting literature. You apply absolutely no sense of literature analysis at any point in your rambling. Please do our civilization a favor and never review a book or piece of writing again.

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