This has spoilers, so if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t yet know what happened at the end of ME3, but you intend to find out on your own at some future date, read no further.
Oh BioWare, I could never be mad at you. Which is probably why I was never mad at you. Yeah, the ending of ME3 left something to be desired, but roughly 15 minutes of cut scene, no matter how bad it is, cannot ruin the hundreds of hours of joy you have brought me and all three of my Shepards. I loved this game so hard that Garrus is probably the only ridiculous new age baby name I will never scoff at. In fact, should something innocent and vulnerable come to rely on my continued care, it just might get named Garrus. Granted, my Garrus will probably be a cat. Garrus the cat. Maybe I’ll rename my current cat Garrus. It’s not like she knows her own name anyway
What I’m trying to say here is that, in the aftermath of the ME3 ending, I felt a little square. All over the internet, people were trying to ‘take back Mass Effect,’ and while I felt a little sad that my Femshep and Garrus weren’t living on a tropical island with half a dozen little Krogan babies running around, there was never an element of outrage. After all, Mass Effect is a toy, a product. Being outraged about the ending of ME3 is like being outraged by the fact that Prismacolor changed the formula for its colored pencils in 2003 and they’ve never been the same since then. Do I remember the exact place I was when I realized that my favorite pencil was no longer capable of the level of performance I had come to expect after years of devoted, exclusive loyalty on my part? Yeah. Did I freak out and join a movement against a company that had, until then, given me so much joy in my life? No. I don’t know if I could have had I tried. I just stopped buying Prismacolor. In fact, I stopped buying colored pencils completely, but that’s a different story…a story about how little money drawing makes me, and how much more money working makes me. But maybe my general lack of outrage and my willingness to chalk a product’s failure up to expected corporate practices and quietly shop elsewhere probably makes me a bad gamer.
If everyone was like me, we’d all just pack our things and go to another developer and no one would know why we did that. Although, let’s be honest—I’m not going anywhere. If I could pay for Dragon Age 3 today, I would. I’d buy almost anything BioWare would sell me. Which is why the Indoctrination theory makes so very much sense to me.
Thank whatever Gods exist for the dedicated fans who came up with/uncovered the truth about the Indoctrination Theory. If you haven’t heard it before, a good, in-depth analysis of the theory can be found at gamefront.com, and it comes with videos. If you don’t want to read 8 pages and watch over half an hour of videos, the shortest short version is this: After Shepard is knocked unconscious by Harbinger’s laser, she begins to hallucinate. Evidence for this is the fact that all squadmates are gone, trees and shrubs in the style of the ones she’s been dreaming about suddenly appear all around and her gun seems to have unlimited ammo. Throughout the following scenes on the Citadel with Anderson and the Illusive Man, whispers and low-sounding reaper tones can be heard as oily shadows like the ones in Shepard’s recurring dreams—and which are first mentioned in ME1 by the Rachni Queen—crawl around at the edge of the screen. Before Anderson dies, we see that Shepard is losing blood from a wound in her side, the same place she shot Anderson. After Anderson and The Illusive Man are both dead and Shepard has been elevated to secret part of the Citadel, the child from Shepard’s dreams appears and tells the Commander that she has three choices. The red ending, which flashes on Anderson, destroys the Reapers along with all synthetic life in the universe. The child reminds Shepard that this includes her. The blue ending, which flashes on The Illusive Man, allows Shepard to control the Reapers, but wipes out her life in the process. The middle ending, the green ending, melds synthetic and organic into everlasting peace but destroys the mass relays. Indoctrination theorists ask, with good reason: Why is the paragon color blue assigned to the renegade character, The Illusive Man, while the renegade color red is assigned to the paragon character, Anderson? The child tells Shepard that she is special and can control the reapers, a delusion that many indoctrinated characters have shared. Also, why then, if the player picks the Anderson/Renegade option is there a cut scene showing Shepard alive after the child told her that destroying synthetics would destroy herself as well?
Color coding morality can lead to less capable analysis in times of stress.
Ultimately, what we have here, if the Indoctrination Theory is true, is the greatest gaming experience of all time. We players have been inserted so deeply into the Mass Effect universe that we ourselves were being indoctrinated against the right choice. Rather than having a bad ending, ME3 then has the most incredible ending of all. Scores of humans went from being the player to the played and we didn’t even catch on until now.
Mass Effect and BioWare never stopped being my favorite game or my favorite company throughout all of this, but when I heard about Indoctrination Theory, my esteem for them shot right out of the park. I always maintained that every person should play this game, now I think so more than anything. Mass Effect should be played in school. What better way to show America’s students the importance of analysis than with a game that plays you like a toy if you always play by the rules. If renegade is always red and paragon is always blue, than you will fall back on the red/blue system when faced with a stressful decision, which is when you need your brain the most. It’s social conditioning 101, and its scope is magnificent.
BioWare’s tight-lipped coolness throughout this ordeal does give me pause. If Indoctrination Theory was the plan all along, then it would have been a marketing coup to release the ‘gotcha’ DLC around the peak of the outrage, but that time has come and gone. As starry eyed as I am when it comes to them, I also doubt they are waiting for us to figure it out on our own in some kind of corporate patronage to free thinking and teamwork. It could just be that the gaming community is better at writing videogame endings than they are. However, I think that no one would mind if they hadn’t planned on Indoctrination being an element of the ending and they made it one anyway. Obviously, the fan base is making it so. How incredibly meta would it be if the fans thought the game was playing them and in order to please the customer base, BioWare took credit for the industries most large-scale stunt, despite not having created it in the first place? If only for the sheer post-modernity of it all, I pray for this outcome.
BioWare confirming Indoctrination Theory would truly make Mass Effect the best videogame of all time, as well as the best story of all time. No writer, no director, or actor has ever had this much influence over an audience, this much of an opportunity to make a statement on our own humanity as they do right now. If it was always the plan, or if it’s just the new plan, I don’t care. Either way speaks volumes about the paradox that is mankind. Of how we can and do frequently create our own reality even as we exhaustively search for truth in our lives.