The Creeping Voice in Your Mind – Discussing the Indoctrination Theory of Mass Effect 3


Saren; victim of indoctrination

The first victim of indoctrination. Is Shepard the last?

In preparation for Mass Effect Andromeda I decided to fire up the old trilogy and re-experience the great joy of fucking Ta- euh, of connecting with the companions and great plot this game trilogy has to offer. Though I have to say it was pretty difficult to play through Mass Effect 3, knowing the terrible ending that awaited me. It was so bad, in fact, that a popular fan theory came about: the indoctrination theory. Shepard becomes indoctrinated throughout the game and the final choice with the crucible is your final chance to break free of the reapers. Many fans have debated it and many have rejected it. Me? Well, I think the indoctrination theory was supposed to happened, but didn’t because of the multiplayer mode.

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, it’s getting warmer again and you can hear the bird mothers sending their young’uns to school to learn how to fly. You go to your office and continue working on Mass Effect 3. After a while you see that guy walking around. EA Games his name is. He’s an asshole, but he pays you, so you have to deal with him. He walks over to your office:

“Hey there Bioware, my golden star, how are you doing there chum?”
“Great sir, I’ve been working on the plot of Mass Effect 3. You see, I think it would be really interesting if Shepard ended up indoctrinated by the Reapers, but we only give subtle hints and let the players figure it out.”
“That’s great buddy, that’s great. But listen, we’ve got to talk about something.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Well, it’s about Mass Effect 3. You see, I think it’d be great if you slapped a Multiplayer unto the game.”
“What? But this is a single player game known for its story!”
“I know Skipper, but adding a multiplayer mode will attract that Call of Duty fanbase and bring in heaps of money.”
“But sir, I am working on the plot. Adding a multiplayer means I’d have to redirect valuable time into that. There won’t be enough time for the story!”
“Story, smory. Kid, everybody plays multiplayer these days. Nobody cares about some alone time.”
“But… But I…”
“Perfect, it’s a done deal. Cya later Skipper. I have to go now. Talk to Criterion Games about making a shooter game with Starwars paint on it.”

And so Bioware hastily redirected all his attention to something that the game didn’t need, at the cost of what was arguably the thing the fans wanted for the longest time: a fitting conclusion to the Reapers and ending in Mass Effect 3.

Plot? Plot Never Changes…

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve played the Multiplayer version and it’s pretty fun, but EA Games is known for forcing the gaming companies it buys up to slap Multiplayer on games that don’t need it. Coding a Multiplayer mode takes time and the third Mass Effect game didn’t have a lot of time as it is. It’s obvious that Bioware has gone through changes as it made the three games. For example; what happened to that dying sun in Haestrom in Mass Effect 2? It was officially going to be a big part of the plot: the reason the reapers are harvesting new (and the strongest) civilisations of the cycle is to get new insight into how to deal with all the dying stars in the galaxy. Shepard would’ve been put in front of a dilemma: allow humanity to become a reaper so that we can help the issue or let our own, individual scientists deal with the problem and figure it out on our own.

The child a sign of indoctrination?

Why is the guard not helping the kid?

Another plotline I feel was abandoned, during development, was the indoctrination theory. I don’t think it’s exactly what fans believe it was, but I feel there are too many things that don’t make sense. The most obvious one is the child. It’s all alone in the ventilation system, only Shepard can see him and he disappears the second Anderson calls out to him? That same child appears at the end of the first Earth mission and absolutely nobody but Shepard pays attention to him? Even the soldiers don’t help him get into the flying cars specifically used to save civilians? And then Shepard spends a long time in a flying ship that happens to have some Reaper technology (The IFF)? Even James says that he keeps hearing a humming sound. Not to mention all the very specific dreams Shepard keeps having, though that can also be a sign of PTSD.

A lot of people also look to the ending to see signs of the indoctrination theory, but I feel that at that point the writers had already changed their mind. People see the trees during Shepard’s run to the portal, but they were there previously as well. Fans think that the Illusive man and Anderson represent figments of Shepard’s mind: the IM wants Shepard to give in to the control whereas Anderson wants to fight! And finally, the crucible comes in the form of that same child that appeared at the start of the game and became a symbol of all of innocents Shepard failed. And you get three choices: control, destroy or combine synthetic and organic life. Curiously very similar to what Saren was saying in ME1.

Those sound like compelling arguments, but it’s just bad writing at this point. The Illusive man was there to wrap up the plot with Cerberus that you’ve dealt with the entire game. The crucible was a deus ex machina to deal with the reapers who were too powerful and the combine synths with organics option was a nice little end that dealt with a very important theme: sacrifice. Your life so that the galaxy can live together. I can appreciate what Bioware tried to do there, but I think we can all agree that the end is a very rushed plot point that was so bad that Bioware created the extended cut to deal with the very angry fans. As well as DLCs of course. They still answer to EA Games…

But honestly, it would make sense if Shepard were to fall to the indoctrination of the reapers. Not only has he spent an enormous amount of time around reapers and their artifacts, but he’s such a big threat that multiple reapers stop what they’re doing to kill him. This one human who’s done the impossible. He’s destroyed several reapers already. Sounds like a mighty fine asset to me.

Does Shepard become a victim of Indoctrination?

Shepard being a bit nettled after Thessia

It would fit with the main themes of the game as well: war brings sacrifice. Being the savoir isn’t that glamorous. It brings stress. You can’t save everyone. You have to make decisions that can cost people their life and the actions you’ve already done can catch up to you. Shepard throughout the entire game is full of stress. He’s uncertain, afraid that he’ll lose and that brings with him a heap of stress. So much in fact, that there are signs he’s become something of a death seeker. Surely it’s not that strange to think that his resistance to Reapers lessens enough that they can start sowing the seeds to indoctrinate him and deal with their greatest threat that way. Why kill him when he can become your agent? Hell, he’s the reason humanity was to become the reaper of this cycle instead of the Asari’s.

But alas, it doesn’t appear in the game. It would’ve been very interesting to see, it would’ve been a great way to test the players themselves and it could’ve made for a good ending to the trilogy. Overcoming the indoctrination, finding a weak spot through doing so and using it with the crucible to wipe off the harvesters. But due to time restraints and a bloody multiplayer mode what we got instead was a half-assed ending that, try as they may, Bioware couldn’t fully patch up by releasing new content.

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the game series Mass Effect. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Mass Effect game series belongs to Bioware and EA Games.

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