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Dreamweaver avatar 6:21 PM on 07.15.2014  (server time)
I love the Indoctrination Theory (yeah, that's right)!

When I first held Mass Effect in my hands, it costs only 20 bucks for a brand new, still sealed copy... but even then, I wasn't too sure whether I should pick this game up or not: it didn't look too fun, and my 20 bucks could be better spent. However, the one thing that caught my attention about this game, and what eventually pushed me to finally take it to the register, was the idea that, by importing save data, your choices in this game would be carried over to the next game in the trilogy, and that save onto the next. On that novelty alone, I decided to take a chance on this game, and I'm glad I did: while the gameplay didn't exactly blow me away, I loved the universe BioWare has created, and the characters, from the best friend Garrus Vakarian to the badass Urdnot Wrex, are characters that too memorable to ever forget.

I also quite enjoyed not only making my character, but also making choices that could've had reprecussions, or saving graces, in future games. Admit it: for some important decisions, some of us sat there staring at the screen, comtemplating whether the choice we were about to make are going to be the one that's right... or the one that's gonna bite us in the ass. Sure, some of us might not have cared, or having the technical knowledge, know that most of our choices are going to wind up virtually negligible... but the game mechanic made me consider the rammifications of my actions, and as a result, make me even more invested into this world. After all, if my decisions could affect characters, such as whether they'll live or die, then I want to make sure we see this trilogy through (I still can't get over a certain side-character's death because of a choice in ME2).

Mass Effect 3 is probably one of the most remembered game in the trilogy, but it's not because it has amazing setpieces, awesome graphics, emotional scenes or things like that... it's because everyone who played it, or listened to the word of mouth, believes that the ending is a complete and utter disappointment. The ending leaves a bad taste on a lot of people's mouths, and they feel like their dozens-of-hours-long journey, despite getting to meet all the characters we love or experiencing all the awesome scenes we've watched, has all been for naught. I'll admit, when I first beat the game, I may not have found it as bad as people said it was (of course, the amount of hate was pretty damn huge back then), but to say that it was a disappointment was right on the mark. However, there was one thing about the ending that I love...

And that was the birth of the Indoctrination Theory.

And Marauder Shields

Now obviously, when someone's talking about the ending of a series, there going to be some spoilers inbound. However, it's important to note that this blog is less about explaining the Indoctrination Theory as it is explaining why I love it so much. That being said, let's talk about what the Indoctrination Theory actually is: the Indoctrination Theory is this fan-generated idea that the ending of Mass Effect 3 shouldn't be taken at face value... because it's meant to be a something of a dream sequence, where the events, after a certain point in the ending, aren't really happening... but rather, it's all a figment of Commander Shepard's mind. Now, if you're as obsessed about videogames as I am, you probably already thought about the other videogame "conspiracies" out on the web, the closest comparison to this game being the whole "Squall is Dead" theory, which I will also summarize.

At end of Final Fantasy VIII's Disc 1, Squall is severely wounded and falls off a ledge. However, even though Squall is okay enough to continue his adventure on the other two remaining discs, a fan have complied evidence that Squall isn't actually alive from that point of the game forward... that instead, he is either dead or near death, and is dreaming the rest of the game. There's an article that goes in depth, but to bring up a few points of the theory: the first third of the game has been fairly realistic, and immediately after his "death", the game suddenly become much more fantasical, and Squall has some of his wishes and desires "fulfilled". Furthermore, there's also the weird ending sequence that a fan suggest is supposed to be Squall actually dying, albeit in a much more creepier fashion. You can read more of that theory here.

For Mass Effect 3's Indoctrination Theory, it runs a similar case: during the final push to break through enemy lines in a hail-mary shot to make it to the Citadel via a levitating beam, Commander Shepard is hit by a Reaper's laser, which is devastating enough to destroy buildings. However, Spehard somehow manages to "survive", and this is supposefully where the "dream" sequence starts: the rest of the game, from reaching the Citadel, having that tense standoff with Anderson and the Illusive Man, and even talking to the Catalyst, is essentially all just an illusion, an attempt for the Reaper to "indoctrinate" (influence their mind, thoughts, and behavior) the most politically powerful person in the galaxy. There's tons of evidence of why it's a dream, including a couple of hour-long documentaries, that you can check out, but in case you don't have that much free time, you can check the short, 22+ minutes video here.

I've seen this video about a half a dozen times by now... and thought about it often.

Now that you've seen the video (unless you've seen it already), whether you enjoy it or not, you could probably tell why so many people hate the theory: despite making, in my opinion, very good points, and some of the evidence being taken from the books itself, people believe that fans are just "reaching" for a hidden meaning behind the ending because they are unwilling to accept the idea that the ending just plain sucks. It's kind of how some people who invested in an expensive, fancy gadget that they hate try to overlook its flaws in order to justify that they didn't waste money on such a stupid appliance: people don't want to believe that the ending could be so... blah, and that days, weeks, or even years, they spent in this universe lead up to that point be all for naught. However, whether you believe in the Indoctrination Theory or not, there's still the most important aspect of that theory that everyone can all agree on: so what if it is true?

If Commander Shepard truly is near death at the end of the game, and hallucinates the rest of the adventure until the eventual credits roll, then what truly happens next? Keeping in mind that this is before the Extended Cut DLC, even if Commander Shepard is fighting to resist Reaper indoctrination by not falling for its mind game (the Indoctrination Theory states that choosing the Control or Synthesis ending means succumbing to its indoctrination, whereas chooing to Destroy the Reapers means you successfully reject it)... then what now: the ground forces are demolished, the remaining forces are pulling back, and all the Reapers standing guard at the beam is seemingly advancing on the retreating enemy. Furthermore, even if Shepard rejects indoctrination, or hell, even submits to it... what's the point if the Reapers are still going to steamroll through our galactic forces? What, did they just wanted to see if the galaxy's strongest leader will break?

Speaking of the galactic forces, and a common complaint for the ending whether you believe in the theory or not, the game doesn't really take your choices into account for its ending: sure, by reaching certain points of your EMS meter, you can unlock more choices to make at the very end... but no matter how much of an alliance you have, whether it's an army of Krogans, Salarians, Turians, etc., they will all retreat after you get knocked the fuck out. If one of the biggest things the game has going for it, the sense that your choice "matters" because of the ability to import saves between games, then why does the conclusion take pretty much none of that into effect? For example, if I convince Jack to let her student support the forces with biotic shielding, I want to see them defending me, and that goes for all the alliances I've made. By now, you're probably thinking "hey, it sounds like you really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3 like us", and you're kind of right... but like I said, the Indoctrination Theory really makes up for it.

For many fans, this was enough.

So now you're asking why am I so in love with this fan theory... Well, other than the idea of loving crazy conspiracies (we didn't land on the Moon back then!), it's also because I love the idea that Shepard's final battle isn't against the Reaper forces in the sense of a grand scale invasion, which admittedly would've been cool... but that his final battle is a personal matter that he has to get through on his own. Sure, Shepard has many friends to stand by him, and the game pretty much revolves around his connection to his squadmates... but for the final section of the game, there's no longer someone to help watch your back, and no one to turn to in case things go from bad to worse. Not only that, but the one time he should have someone with him, he doesn't: he's been blasted and injured, bleeding out of his wounds as he walks with a limp... yet he pushes on to save the rest of the galaxy knowing that every second he's not moving, dozens of more people will die: his determination to see things to the end is the sign of true strength right there.

I also find the scene with the Illusive Man and Anderson to be even more enjoyable than when I first played it (which says a lot because it was one of the few scenes, particularly Anderson's final moments, to be one of my favorite parts of the series without the Indoctrination Theory) because it wasn't a traditional "boss fight": rather than duking it out with the Illusive Man like we did Kai Leng, we simply chat with him, trying to get him to see things our way before eventually either shooting him ourselves, or convincing him that he's indoctrinated and he must do it himself. However, with the Indoctrination Theory, it adds another layer to this scene because, according to the theory, Anderson represents the part of Shepard's mind that's resilient to indoctrination (the subsconscious mind), and that the Illusive Man represents the part of the mind that is already indoctrinated to force Shepard to succumb to him. I especially like Anderson's role in this scene because, if he is Shepard's mirrored self, then the talk they had before he rests in peace is even more feels-worthy, as it's like his subconscious mind is telling Shepard that it's time to rest (Anderson is my absolute favorite side-character, and not because I want to romance Keith David).

I mean, we know how much of a badass Shepard could be: we seen him take down the toughest enemies, seen him survive the most dangerous of situations, seen him die and come back to life to continue fighting (even if Cerberus had the best scientists reviving him, his will must be pretty damn strong if he felt what death feels like and still want risk going through it again)... but the idea that the final confrontation between him and the Reapers being a battle only in his mind is a pretty cool twist, and something that the player themselves has to somewhat acknowledge and recognize (because hey, that scene isn't exactly so easy to read if it births the most convoluted theory I've ever heard for a videogame), in order to abstain from doing anything but outright destroying the Reapers. I like it when the "game" (remember that the Indoctrination Theory is a fan-based one, albeit one that could be BioWare's "original" intentions) extends across the television set and brings the player into it by asking them if they can see through the deception.

With the Indoctrination Theory, 3 choices is all I need.

For that reason, out of all the times I have played Mass Effect 3, I have not chosen any other endings but "Destroy": in my eyes, Destroy has been the only option because I want to believe that Shepard (who, in a sense, is me) did not fall for any tricks, and if my EMS is high enough, that he even has a chance to "survive" (if one counts trying to breathe with piles of rubble crushing his face "surviving"). Also... I don't like the Reapers, so why do I want to Control them or, worse yet, merge with them via Synthesis? Furthermore, even if the Indoctrination Theory doesn't provide an "ending" per se (as the hallucination starts from the moment Shepard is struck by a Reaper), that's okay with me because, in a sense, I think it's better for the game that we don't really know if we're going to win or lose: for most of the trilogy, we saw things mainly through Shepard's eyes because, as BioWare stated, this is Shepard's story, so if they went far enough to disable ME2 saves if Shepard is dead, then I like to think that the story ends when Shepard does, even before the end of the war of the races. Hell, for all we know, the Reapers won and the next entry will feature new races in a new galaxy trying to prevent the next cycle (calling it now: Liara cameo)!

I like videogames with open-ended endings because it allows players who experienced it to see it the way they want to see it (kind of like the whole "glass half-full/half-empty" thing), and while BioWare and thousands of others insist that Mass Effect 3 ended on a "that really did just happen" note, I like to believe in the Indoctrination Theory because not only did it spark quite the debate back in the day (which, from what I've seen, revolves around people who believe BioWares' staff are godly writers, and people telling them to shut the fuck up)... but because it gave me a different way to view the ending, and a different thing to take away from it: sure, many people will see Mass Effect 3 ending as the horrible, illogical, seemingly rushed conclusion that wasted their time... but the Indoctrination Theory shows me that this is truly Shepard's story, not necessarily his legacy, and that he went through eveything to either give up at the end... or stick to his guns and resist Indoctrination like Saren and the Illusive Man before him.

Now, you can say that you don't believe in the Indoctrination Theory, and you can even ridicule me for liking it, even after the DLCs that pretty much all but explicitly debunks it (I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned at all in the tongue-in-cheek Citadel DLC that I absolutely loved). However, to me, it's one of the best gaming conspiracies I have ever heard, and as far as I'm concerned, I can't unsee the ending as anything more than the Reaper's attempt to indoctrinate Shepard... nor do I want to. It gives a better context to the ending, in my opinion, and hey: if the Indoctrination Theory is what makes me enjoy a game more, then isn't that what makes it okay?

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