Mass Effect 3 Ending: Analyzing The Indoctrination Theory

Mass Effect’s Greatest Achievement?

Indoctrination is a long-standing and very big feature of the Mass Effect universe and the Reaper war itself. The idea of loss of control, manipulation and subservience to the enemy comes up a lot, in the games and in the expanded universe of the novels. This is a huge theme; it would make lots of sense to find it in the ending.

Furthermore, if the endings as they stand are fake, then the resulting vitriol regarding them may well have been planned. Think about that one for a minute — BioWare might have manipulated us into hating the ending of the game. In essence, BioWare would have indoctrinated just about every Mass Effect player into thinking, like Shepard, that the events as they stand are what happened, when that assumption is actually untrue. It wasn’t just Shepard, a cartoon you control, who was indoctrinated — you were indoctrinated, forced to make the Reapers’ choices just as he was, whether you wanted to or not.

Your video game would have basically brainwashed you. Welcome to the only possible situation in which that would be simply awesome.

If that’s BioWare’s design, it’s a staggering feat of gaming. Mass Effect has always harped on player choices, interactive storytelling and immersion, and this would take those ideas to a level never even attempted before. But it only works if there’s more to the story. And that means a hidden ending somewhere, or further DLC releases. Because without additional material for the ending, an indoctrinated Shepard makes things even worse, not better. More on that in a second.

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202 Comments on Mass Effect 3 Ending: Analyzing The Indoctrination Theory

Stephen Schnare

On March 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Very well done, gentlemen.

If this indeed is what happened, and we do see some DLC, then I think it will appease the bulk, if not all, of us in the Retake movement.

And yes, Bioware will have created one of the most memorable send-offs to a video game ever. And that may have been their goal all along.

Let’s hope.


On March 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Just one problem. BioWare themself debunked that theory in “The Final Hours”, by replying “it wouldnt work”.

So the real ending is your imagination on what happens next. If you want it to be indoctrination then it is. If you want to be something else as just a simple boom its over, then it is.

They have hinted again and again that the ending is your own imagination after the fact.


On March 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm

If we get a follow up on this, I will be completely satisfied. However, if they don’t give us follow up DLC it’s pointless. Just as bad as no explanation at all…


On March 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm

p.s “The Truth” dlc began on 4chan, is set to release in april (april 1st, hello?).

So dont hold your breath on that. =)


On March 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm

There’s more to it also;

First playing; when Shepard sees the kid; there is no exit in the vent where the kid is at; if you go back and look. Also Anderson snaps Shepard of what seems a trace.

Second when you see the kid outside; no one else seems to pay attention to him; no one guarding him and looks like one of the solider’s points a gun at him. No one helps him get into the ship. Nada….

All the dreams Shepard has; is exactly what is descripted in the indoctrine codex in the game………;)


On March 15, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Here is the info from “The Final Hours” doc.

Deciding the End of the Game:
“And even in November the gameplay team was still experimenting with an endgame sequence where players would suddenly lose control of Shepard’s movement and fall under full reaper control. (This sequence was dropped because the gameplay mechanic proved too troublesome to implement alongside dialogue choices). “


On March 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Would it be brilliant? I personally don’t play thinking “gee whiz, I sure hope I get punked today!”

The theory seems unlikely to me anyway. I sure understand the desire to make sense of the ending, but it’s looking more and more to me as if it’s deliberately been made vague out of a misguided notion that, since fans love to augment the story and discuss extra-story possibilities, leaving loose ends and questions would stimulate speculative discussion that fans would enjoy.

But there’s a difference between a laser focus on critical storytelling that leaves some ideas for the reader/player to develop, and just carving the story resolution into pieces then randomly taking some out so that the result is nonsense.

I think all the rest is dedicated fans’ attempt to bring order to deliberate chaos. I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not. I’d rather just know the ending is bad than to find out BioWare thought it was OK to conduct some sort of bizarre social experiment / PR coup at my expense. In what sense is that brilliant? If I suddenly feel the urge to be a test subject, I’ll drive over to the local University and volunteer at the Psych department so that I KNOW what I’m getting myself into.


On March 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I would also add, that it need more content, or at least a comment coming from Bioware SOON as at this rate if they leave it much longer they’ll of lost all semblence of control of the situation and find themselve in an unenviable position of having no fan base to publish the DLC too

Phil Hornshaw

On March 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm


I don’t disagree with you in terms of “Gee, I hope I get punked today.” It is kind of…awful, in a way, and if BioWare was going to do this, it would seem they’ve basically set themselves on fire in an attempt to pull off a magic trick.

But from a larger, more academic perspective, it would certainly be very “break the fourth wall” of them. Provided they paid it off.

But yeah, I think you’re generally right that fans are seeing either things that don’t jive that they wish did by filling in the gaps, or what could very well be vestiges of portions of the game that never came together. In fact, the more time goes on, the more the latter seems to be the case.


On March 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm

People are pulling at straws to try and make sense of things.

Tim McFadden

On March 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Lets say its true and Shep wakes up in that rumble. Shep fought off indoc only to relized s/he is a freaking failure who never even got to his/her goal and is about to be stomped on like a bug by Harbinger, since Harb now knows Shep can not be broken. Oh , and if you played ‘your Shep’ instead of Bioware’s Shep, you don’t even get stomped on as a free wo/man, instead you get to circle jerk with all the other indocs! How is this a good ending again!?!?

Phil Hornshaw

On March 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm

@Tim McFadden

Yeah, exactly. It’d be contingent on BioWare providing more ending content through DLC, probably.


On March 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm

@SXO You mean “emergency induction ports” right?

Phil Hornshaw

On March 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm


High-five for that one.


On March 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

The fervor surrounding this Indoctrination theory shows just how attached people have become the the Mass Effect universe… and how desperate they are to find any way out of those abominable endings. Any way at all.

I have nothing but love for anyone that deluded, but I think we need to just accept that Bioware fumbled at the one yard line.


On March 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm

My theory is that Shepard was knocked unconscious and buried in a pile of rubble by Harbinger’s beam attack before he could enter the beam and the perfect ending scene where we see him take a breath of air, is actually him waking from his “dream” state or indoctrination if you will.


On March 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Phil, you and Ross deserve a friggin’ medal. Seriously. Gamefront is the ONLY site on the net right now making a serious effort to A) identify the issues that gamers are talking about and B) analyze them in an intelligent, informative, and even-handed manner. This is what gaming journalism is supposed to look like.
Well done.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm


Aww, thanks! That means *a lot*. Much appreciated.


On March 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I personally am hesitant to subscribe to the Indoctrination Theory, as I feel it’s mostly a coping mechanism but disenchanted fans.

I agree it would be AMAZING if BW does succeed in going all meta with it… but I’d also feel a bit violated… and traumatized. I’d probably approach all future game ending’s that are poorly written or vague, with no small amount of paranoia.

Even if that was the case, the quality of the pseudo-endings as they are now, is just pathetic… they could have fleshed it out a lot more, as it’s more rage-inducing than mysterious and perplexing.

And somewhere deep in the most pessimistic recesses of my soul, there exists a thought: Perhaps our current endings were just filler, while they surreptitiously crowdsource a new ending? I fear they would slap their brand all over the “Indoctrination Metagame” idea. Unlikely, but I can’t shake that notion.

That said, THANK YOU GameFront (esp. Phil Hornshaw and Ross Lincoln) for wearing your serious spectacles for some in-depth analysis, and not brushing this off as “whiny fanboy entitlement” and “happy ending bs” like nearly ALL other publications. You’re my new go-to for all VG related news! Thank you!

Askar Biggins

On March 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I find it funny that a simple concept that even Conrad Verner can grasp is so difficult for so many gamers… even those who write articles on the subject.

Conrad Verner knows that it’s important to ask all the questions he can think of. Do you?

Conrad Verner knows that it’s important to ask all the questions he can think of. Do you?

Evidently not so much. Want me to explain the whole thing? Including why it makes sense that Shepard saw Joker and the crew flying away in his vision? Oops, just did.


On March 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

U non beleivers have no imaginatiin. U play thru a while sci fu series but cany imagine an ending or make realistic theories about it. Bioware is silent and unweavering for a reason. Shut up. Get a life and real LI.


On March 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm

This is getting awfully close to being one of these

Iirc, the black tendrils and shepard showing signs of a headache only happens near the Illusive man who we know for a fact is indoctrinated. When TIM dies and you go up to speak to ghostgodboy all signs of indoctrination dissappears. You do not appear to be indoctrinated when on the upper levels. That means the evidence has a better fit with the hypothesis that TIM tried to indoctrinate you and failed (since you know, you shot him in the head). That’s it.


On March 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

Well set video, one thing that was left out though was how was Shepard able to breath. When the crucible and the citadel setup there was no sign of a set force field or metal shielding to sustain air or gravity. So, how was Shepard able to breath and not float away in space. Also, after Shepard gets hit by Harbinger the area around him changes that almost resembles some part of his dream the past 3 times. There also happens to be a perfect stack of dead bodies in one pile that was not there before. If all of that was a complete mistake on BioWare’s and was not done on purpose, then that some amazing developer’s mistake.


On March 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

Oh, I forgot one more thing that could prove that his is an Indoctrination by the Reapers. The DLC Arrival in ME2 you are near a Reaper device and hit by a massive energy that knocks Shepard out. If you look at all the people that work on the mission codename: The Project they have been near the device for quite awhile. Though Shepard was able to avoid a fast indoctrination, but it has started to take his toll on him/her in ME3 hope that adds more to the theory.


On March 16, 2012 at 1:20 am

Hehhe maybe this ending the indoctrination is an earlier april fool trick and there will be a DLC for that.Harbinger you april joker xD

BSN forumer

On March 16, 2012 at 1:32 am

Guys, seriously?

Why don’t you admit where you got the bulk of these ideas from?

From March 9th, the BioWare forums have been talking about Indoctrination Theory and compiling evidence to support it. Most of the videos on YouTube are a direct representation of the “was the ending a hallucination” thread.

Namely, the beautiful and seminal posts by lookingglassmind and byne on the first page of that thread: “In defense of the indoctrination theory: the BioWare/Player Indoctrination Theory”.

This essential piece of work was published way ahead of this article, and sparked a fever on the forums and the rest of the internet.

I would like to see credit given where credit is due. Those two authors spent hours working for what you are given credit for in this article.


On March 16, 2012 at 1:44 am

Where to start? Unfortunately, I have to agree that “new ending” dlc seems highly unlikely. Even worse the “Oh we had this ending all along, but we wanted to see if you all were smart enough to catch these hints.” They would risk setting a dangerous precedent and they would have tons of fans ticked off by being charged extra for something we all feel should have been on disc in the first place.

That being said I, as a gamer that has played through the first two games probably a dozen times each, can’t help but hope the indoctrination theory is true.

I can’t help but remember the recording on the Derelict Reaper between the two scientists talking about their wedding and their wife’s stockings and not being able to tell who’s memory it was. Then there’s the whole fact that being on a reaper exposes you to heavy indoctrination. There’s nothing to assume about whether it could indoctrinate people because the crew sent to study it were. The only question would be length of exposure necessary.

Then, if you play arrival, you’re exposed to Object Rho until you pass out. Once again it clearly indoctrinated the teams that found it. If we really think about it I’m sure the collector base if not the collector ship had to have some reaper technology. Let’s not forget you fought the incomplete human reaper up close and personal. In the third one you go to TIM’s base which was powered by either the human reaper’s heart or brain.

Once again you fight reapers, possibly being stepped on by one on Tuchanka, air striking another one about to step on you on Rannoch (who even talks to you), and finally on Earth fighting one last one off with the “Thanix” missiles, not to mention all the nearby reapers on Earth, Menae, and Thessia. All of this exposure and Shepard isn’t in the least bit affected?

Finally, when you are controlled by TIM you see black tentacles at the edges of the screen. If you “save” Anderson TIM has a moment where he fights them and when you see him fighting them he has the same black tentacles around him. How would he be able to control you if Shepard wasn’t at least somewhat indoctrinated? Why would the same image show up around you as did him? Then you get up to this A.I. god that you have been having “weird dreams” about and he tells you “Oh TIM wouldn’t have been able to control us because we already controled him.” How did the A.I. know to take that shape? Why would it take that shape? All of that seems a little too strange for me to accept outright. Not to mention if the Citadel is his home and he controls the reapers, what was the point of Sovereign in the first game? Obviously he is connected to the Citadel’s computers. Then there’s the whole Shepard passes out on the elevator without pressing anything and yet it still goes up to the A.I. Why do that? I mean Shepard was dieing, the reapers were winning the battle and yet you still bring him up there to make a choice that could possibly destroy a plan you have had running for millions of years? Makes absolutely no sense.

Then when everything is said and done you get this “magical” little ending where your friends, who were down on Earth with you, are seen walking out onto a lush garden world. We’re told not to expect rainbows and fairy tales and yet the whole ending scene, no matter what choice, is all bright and happy: “Yay! We survived. Yeah we had to blow up the relays, leave Shepard behind, and somehow get onto the ship after we were blown up by Harbinger, but you know what we don’t care!”

Phil Hornshaw

On March 16, 2012 at 2:10 am

@BSN Forumer

I went and tracked down those posts you mention, which are here, as near as I can tell: Near as I can tell, you’re referring to the two paragraphs in “Why It Could Be True” in which we discuss a few points that are pro-indoctrination evidence. But the purpose of posting that video was to show all the evidence collected by the community. In fact, we glossed it a bit because others had done the job and had videoed it. I figured posting someone else’s video was a pretty good indication that it was not our work. Sorry if the post came off as though that was not the case.

And you’re right, those were posted out ahead of us, and they are DEFINITELY worth reading for anyone interested in the issue, as they’re filled with some insane detail work. I’ll be adding a paragraph with links to these rundowns tomorrow, so that any further readers will be directed to them. Meanwhile, we dedicated our main energies to the up-or-down, is it true/is it not true analysis as well as the discussion of DLC and the idea of the fourth-wall-breaking meta concept, which was all us. I saw that others have had the same idea as that latter point. I have not read their takes, but I’m sure that if they’re like me, they’re hoping like hell that a developer will actually try to pull a fast one like that some day.

We would definitely never take credit for others’ ideas (why bother to write all this stuff down if we could just link it). We’ve just been fascinated by the theory since we first heard it and have been discussing it at length, but Ross and I continue to struggle with deciding just how much we believe in it. We decided to go with this analysis largely because the Indoctrination Theory was linked dozens of times in our feature about why the endings disappointed fans, and seemed worth discussing at length.

Thanks for bringing this stuff to our attention.


On March 16, 2012 at 3:37 am

mass effect sucks


On March 16, 2012 at 4:00 am

Great article, but I have to disagree in some point.
Firstly, about the color of choices. A renegate choice always destroys, kills, act without considering peace. Shep blows up the reapers even if it means more, upcoming war in the future. The Kid was right! There will be wars between organics and synthetics. And the peacefully and paragon choice is controlling the reapers! I know it’s hard to believe that the Illusive man’s choice was the paragon one, but I think the difference between Shep and him that Shepard would use it to make peace, he just wanted more power and probably would turned them against other species.
Plus, someone asked how did the Illusive man got to the Citadel. We know the answer for that. The Prothian VI told us. He fled there after the hit on the Cerberus base.
Furthermore, the video mentioned a few things, whereof I think, they were only bugs or mistakes. I played the ending through three times. 3/2 my comrades where laying on the ground next to me but on the third time there were random soldiers in their place. The Magic gun with infinite ammo? They probably didn’t want you to run out of it before you reach the teleport thing. I know, a few bullets would have been enough but maybe it was easier to give you infinity one instead of counting how many would you need.
About the scene in the end, where Shepard laying in the rubble. Some people say it must be in London cause the rubble is made of concrete not metal. Maybe it’s just a mistake. They just made a nice scene and simple forgot about the materials.
But there are things nobody mentioned, whereas they’re really weird.
Firstly, why has the Catalysk three voices? A children voice, a male Shepard voice and a female Shepard voice!
Why is he in this form? Don’t dare to tell me he is the boy from Vancouver! He obviously isn’t.
Well that’s all. Still I find the other 30 hour of the game amazing.
Sorry for the poor english.


On March 16, 2012 at 4:15 am

As a long time fan of the series, I actually do hope the Indoctrination theory has some truth to it. While I don’t like being messed with, it would be an impressive and, honestly, masterful story-telling device if executed well. Now I do want to add a little bit of support to the theory. There have been 3 main characters who are (or supposedly) have been indoctrinated: Saren, TIM, and Shepard (if the theory is correct.) There are three possible choices. In ME1, Saren tried to convince you that the only way to survive was by uniting organics and synthetics: The synergy option. Throughout ME 2 and most of ME3, TIM tries to convince you that control is the only way out. The problem here is that both were indoctrinated. The only option that wasn’t explored before by anyone else was the destruction option. This option, however, is made to seem like a stupid choice because Shepard could partially be indoctrinated, and of course, the reapers don’t want to be destroyed, so they go to great lengths to convince Shepard (and thusly following: the players) that really any choice is okay… except destroying the reapers. Now who knows, I might be thinking about it too much, but I love the games and hope that really anything happens to give some clarity.

Arvee Jeremillo

On March 16, 2012 at 4:40 am

I actually can agree with the theory. Phil and Ross did point out a lot of things which gives light.

BUT, i strongly believe that there is still some more end game content. At the end the stargazer said “It’s getting late, but one more story” (something like that)

I dunno. I just hope BioWare didn’t just screw themselves over. It’s too early to tell.

Kudos to Phil and Ross.

Tali (@Locolobo_2)

On March 16, 2012 at 7:01 am

Yeah, seriously guys… I agree totally with @JawaEsteban when he says you guys are doing a great job with this. I had mostly gone to IGN just cuz they were the only thing I’d really had to look to (just had to learn to weed out all the nonsense over there…), but you guys (Phil and Ross) definitely got my attention. I really appreciate your guys’ articles on these subjects since its a huge issue right now, and no one else seems to be handling it (if they’re even handling it at all) as well as you guys. Very much appreciated by us gamers.


On March 16, 2012 at 7:16 am

DLC endings now? As much as i hope the Indoctrination ending is real, what about all those people who bought the game yet don’t have internet hooked up at home. There’s still a lot of people out there with no Net to get DLC. way to piss people off even more.

Tali (@Locolobo_2)

On March 16, 2012 at 7:58 am

They could probably release it as an expansion… for those who don’t have internet…

Tali (@Locolobo_2)

On March 16, 2012 at 7:59 am

Or maybe they’re assuming people who have enough money to own a system and a 60 dollar game probably have internet… well, at least the majority… idk.


On March 16, 2012 at 8:17 am

First of all, I would like to say how much I appreciate and respect the integrity of this post and the discussions throughout it. Most of the forums and posts I have read regarding the ending of ME3 have suffered from less productive forms of debating the controversy.

While I am not completely sold on the Indoctrination Theory, I must admit that the evidence for it is incredibly substantial. More surprisingly, there is virtually no evidence within the lore that counters it. I find this very intriguing. Most “conspiracy theories” have some form of evidence in favor of and against it. This is not the case for the Indoctrination Theory. I’ve read forums where the majority supports the theory, as well as others where the majority opposes it. I have only seen one valid counter-argument to the theory. This was posted in a forum titled “Indoctrination Theory = Classic Denial” in the official Bioware forums. The argument claimed that Bioware would never stage the “real world” indoctrination due to decreasing stocks and plummeting sales resulting from the negative feedback of the current ending. I agree this is a valid point. Certainly no company would ever attempt this form of stunt, unless they believe it would pay off in the end, literally. I would argue that if any game developing company were to stage this, even capable of attempting to stage this, it would be Bioware. If they were ever going to try, it would certainly be in the Mass Effect series, and it makes sense to do it at the very end because it would be unforgettable, a pivotal point in gaming history. The risk involved causes one to disbelieve that they would ever attempt such a feat, but it would not surprise me to see Bioware as the first to try.

Beyond the counter-argument listed above, I have only seen posts of disbelief, claims of people being in denial, and other forms of weak argumentation. I admit that certain (though very few) points of the theory seem to be “reaching,” in my opinion. However, the vast majority of the theory is sound, logical, and very well thought out. It isn’t a last ditch effort to make sense of an ambiguous and otherwise horrible ending. After researching the ending controversy at great length, it became clear to me that there are far too many plot holes, mistakes, and issues with the ending (both in depth and breadth) for it to be the true ending.

Many claim that accepting the Indoctrination Theory results in falling into denial and personal bias. To me, taking the endings at face value and dismissing the astronomical mistakes and plot holes seems illogical. Excluding the final 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3, it would have been a nearly flawless series. To accept that a developing team of this caliber would overlook such blatant mistakes and end the series as it currently is appears delusional. Also, many of the “mistakes” are far too obvious for them to simply be overlooked. The infamous flip of red/blue for the “control” and “destroy” endings on the citadel is certainly intentional. The importance of color implementation is one of the key foundations to learning any field relating to marketing, advertisement, and media in general. These little details are never randomly selected; they are always intentional and chosen for a specific purpose.

However, I understand there are many other perspectives that differ from mine in reference to the ME3 ending. This is simply my interpretation and thought process behind the controversy. I hope it helps to stimulate more thinking about the subject. No one has all the answers yet. We will have to wait and see what Bioware does in the days to follow. The ball is in their court.

Also, if the “real world” meta-indoctrination is indeed true, it would be wise to take everything Bioware says to the public with a grain of salt.

Slightly *meh* fan

On March 16, 2012 at 8:23 am

I always thought it likely they’d kill Shepherd off in the end but all I wanted was an uber happy lots of little blue children ending!

How are you supposed to get over 5000 without multiplayer by the way?


On March 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

I wouldn’t want it. It’s all a dream is one of the biggest cop outs unless done right. And making people pissed off is not the right response, even people who like this theory on the forums still say they’ll be pissed off if it’s true and probably would not buy anymore Bioware games since they wouldn’t get the full game (and this time they’d be 100% right), they’ll just buy the DLC for one last bit of closure.

Even if it’s free and true it’s still a crappy business practice and would ruined any faith I had in the company. If they were going to do something like this make it where you get the indoctrinated ending the first playthrough and the second playthrough you get the real one.

BSN Forumer

On March 16, 2012 at 9:07 am

Here is the link to the BSN thread which holds the original data for the Player Indoctrination Theory:

And this is the post:

In defense of the Hallucination/Indoctrination theory: the BioWare/Player Indoctrination Theory

With the assistance of my peers throughout the rest of this thread, I have collated a series of facts that I would like to present to the community as being evidence for a a priori intention for the endings of ME3. Some of this information will not be new to a lot of you, and it may seem downright strange to a lot of you. It does require a strong and disorienting amount of suspension of disbelief, so if you cannot engage in this type of thought process, I encourage you to skip over this post. :) It will hurt your brain. Or make you think that I’m crazy. Likely both. (I’m okay with either.)

With the assistance of countless others’ highly important observations in this thread, I sumbit to you that possibility the endings of ME3 represent the highest form of the metagaming experience. The highest form of BioWare’s “giving the player choice that matters, from ME1 to ME3″. The highest form of player interaction that we have yet seen from a video game. This has never before been attempted by a company, and it represents the ballsiest dedication to story and lore that may exist.

I believe that the endings may be indicative of BioWare attempting to allow the player the real-time experience of what indoctrination would be like. This theory explains (in a highly weird, impossible, and completely insane way) all of the missing pieces in the hallucination sequence, and also explains BioWare’s real-world actions (such as complete silence since the fan sh*tstorm broke in response to the endings).

If you have not been keeping up with the thread, or if you have not read Byne’s/Kitten Tactics/Turtlicious’ amalgamation of all of the evidence we have accumulated for the originial hallucination theory on page 1, then I would urge you to do so before you read any more of this post. Due to time constraints, I won’t be posting all of the evidences that we have located in this post to confirm or contradict this theory: I leave it in your capable and self-aware hands to attain this information yourself. I am posting this as an add-on to page 1, as I don’t think it was properly represented there in its entire grand scope.

So, to the meat of the issue:

We have already established as much evidence as we can that ‘proves’ that Shepard is either hallucinating/dreaming just prior to/immediately after he runs into Harbinger’s beam/Conduit. The hallucination/dream sequence has been quite well fleshed out, with a lot of compelling environmental evidence to support it (again, please see page 1 for further analysis). I am going to use this particular vehicle of suspension of disbelief to propose that BioWare’s intention during this sequence is to flag the player with as many markers as they can: This current reality playing before your eyes (the Citadel, the Catalyst, TIM, Anderson) is a reflection of Shepard. It is the product of his/her mind. The meeting with the Catalyst may or may not be rooted in reality; they may meet in some metalphysical dimension, or Shepard may just hallucinate the entire thing. Either way, this theory would argue that it essentially doesn’t matter, because what truly matters is the role of the player in this sequence. Your role. The scene is set in a way that urges the player to become aware of things just not being right, of being a place that mirrors (literally) Shepard’s experiences throughout the game. The reality presented on the Citadel is an amalgamation of archetypes of every thing Shepard has seen in the series, which this theory challenges the player to understand as being a direct prompt from BioWare to understand that what is truly happening during this scene is all within Shepard’s mind. His/her reality. Under her/his control.

Understanding that the reality on the Citadel as being a cerebral concoction that is entirely of Shepard’s creation is important when we arrive upon the Crucible. It becomes a vital understanding when we are faced with these three, seemingly bizarre and unexpected choices that the Catalyst gives us. This theory submits that BioWare is asking the player to actively question EVERYTHING that happens once Shepard runs into Harbinger’s beam. The cost of not questioning, or making the right choice even if you do?

Real-time player indoctrination. Shepard’s literal death.

Think about it carefully. We arrive on the Crucible, and are faced with an archetype of manipulation, the Catalyst. Taking the form of a child that has come to represent everything that is horrendous about the Reapers to Shepard, the Catalyst/Harbinger provides Shepard with three strange and disorienting choices. He first presents Shepard with the option of Destroy, making swift and empty assertations about how it is the wrong choice because it would kill all synthetic life and Shepard herself/himself. At its surface, this seems like the renegade/chaos option, and is even insidiously portrayed in Renegade Red, a direct nod to the Player himself/herself. Directly appealing to your experiences with how the game works. He then goes on at great length about the Control and Synthesis options, portraying Control as the blue paragon/order option. Again, directly appealing to the Player. He argues that Control is the best option, implies that Shepard is the new Catalyst, and leaves us to contemplate the possibility that we could use it to try and save the people we love; after all, we are Shepard, and we would never become like TIM. Synthesis is the last option explored, and it is portrayed as a compromise or as being the Brave New Hope for the galaxy. I have a suion that Synthesis may actually be the ‘perfect’ choice, but that is for another theory. :) (If you’re curious, read about the tech-singularity lore within the game, and research humes spork’s posts about the singularity within this thread.) Either way, Synthesis smacks of strangeness because it seems so inherently Reaper-oriented. As though it were servicing the Reapers’ philosophy more strongly than the other two options.

This moment, when you are standing there, agonizing over your choice? This is your indoctrination moment. This is where, it could be (fantastically and insanely) argued that this is the moment when indoctrination and all of its insidious power becomes as real as it possibly CAN be to the Player. Think about it! We stand there. We agonize. We freak out about the ridiculous choices, and we wonder (like Shepard would) why we just can’t ARUGE with the Catalyst (like Shepard would). And then, as this reality seems to be the only way forward (much like how indoctrination presents a version of reality to the indoctrinated that he/she sees as being the ONLY REAL OPTION — echoes of TIM, Kai Leng, Saren here), we begin to accept it. Tremulously, we start to make our choice.

If you choose Control, then you, the player — the one who moves through the game though Shepard’s eyes; every choice s/he has ever made in the game has been directly because of you — have been indoctrinated. It may have been because you thought you could save your crew, your LI, or that you really could gain perfect Control over the Reapers because you are Shepard. Regardless, you have been duped. Indoctrinated by the game. Your slow exposure to the Reapers in 2007 culminates to this final choice — complete and free player agency and determination.

If you choose Synthesis, you face a fate similar to that of Control. It’s debatable to me at this point as to whether or not you have chosen to fulfill the Reapers’ purpose, but indoctrination is still a heavy possibility with this one. The only reason that I state this with any certainty is because, like the ending we see with Control, Shepard is dead at the final credits.

If you choose Destroy, then the Player Indoctrination Theory submits that this is you, the player, deciding whether or not Shepard overcomes the indoctrination attempt being rained upon him/her by Harbinger/the Catalyst. If you decide this option, and if you have enough EMS to ensure that Shepard has enough real-world time to get through the indoctrination attempt/hallucination — Shepard lives. We see him/her breathing in the rubble of London streets at the end of the game. Shepard has defied indoctrination. You, yourself, have defied indoctrination.

Does this theory make sense? Maybe not. When we consider BioWare’s real-world motivations and risks (profit, losing a large fanbase over the disgusting wretchedness of the endings as they currently exist), then the theory is hard to support. But if, for just one moment, we can let ourselves believe that BioWare may just have lived up to their celebrated philiosophy of Player Choice and Player Acutalization, then this theory becomes awe-inspiring. Is it possible? Could BioWare have sacrificed the potential for safe profits in order to bring the most insane and beautiful gaming experience of all time to its fans? The most unprecedented example of player immersion of our times? Would BioWare have truly allowed the risk for profit and angering a serious amount of their fan population in pure deference to the story, and its lore?

It may explain BioWare’s silence on the matter, until “more people have played the game”, or until all regions have the game. It may explain Jess M.’s twitter about fans “reacting before having all of the facts”. It may…. just may explain these super sh*tty endings in a way that would make BioWare the God of RPGs.

Is it likely? No. Am I reaching, insanely? Yes.

But is it possible?


BSN Forumer

On March 16, 2012 at 9:08 am

Credit for the previous post goes to Lookingglassmind and Byne.


On March 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

The real ending is sadly this: Shepard talks to some star child and makes one of three canned choices that basically all result in the same unsatisfying, dull, confusing, moot ending. No tricks or gimmicks here. Just the fact that Bioware had to push the games release date back once already and EA definitely would not let them do it again. So, we a left with a rushed and incomplete incomprehensible ending. Hopefully, they will make up for it with a free DLC, but I get the sneaking suion that they will never make up for it. But, if they do we will we end up paying for their laziness twice.


On March 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

To be honest, the more I think about the ending I like it a lot, but something is afoot with it.

All it takes is a bit of critical analysis when you contemplate it. Don’t think about it as you like it or hate it… be impartial and interpret it.

That is why this article right now is the best on the net right now about ME3′s ending because it analyses the ending and not condemns it or uplifts it.

That being said, I think Bioware is going into uncharted territory with the ending. Mass Effect since 2007 innovated and changed how video games are played. This ending scenario leaps into the stratosphere concerning video games. It blends

It actually makes you think like great movies do. It isn’t clear cut… it’s up for interpretation. The ending is very unknown, and I think that unknown scares most people. Like the Reapers, the endings are above and beyond our comprehension and control.

With it comes a lot of metaphysics [explaining the beyond], mathematics [chaos theory], and science/evolution [technological singularity]. I picked the synthesis ending, because to me that’s the only ‘end’ to this messed up galaxy. If you destroy the Reapers, the galaxy risks total destruction by a future synthetic race. If you control them a risk comes from the Reapers evolving to throw that control off.

The synthesis one is the only ending logical to me: to harmonize both races… exactly how you’ve done by unifying the galaxy. What sold me is the line about the Catalyst’s “Pinnacle of evolution.”

But as I’ve said the ending is riddled with holes. It feels like a rough draft… like it’s not totally complete. That’s why I subscribe to this theory, or that it was a dream. Something’s missing or lost just like the Stargazer explains at the end. Bioware is setting us up for something more, and just like indoctrinated thraws… we will see it through to the absolute end.

And just remember: Stanley Kubrick never got any warm reception for most of his movies when they immediately released. I think with time and maybe a little altering this ending stands pat.

Even though I like the ending the idea of selling a new ending via DLC is a bad choice and I don’t support having to pay more for it. It should be free or included actually IN the game.

So I’m trying to see both sides but I’m scratching my head just like everyone else.


On March 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Not only this theory form me is correct but it opens a great deal for the future for Bioware.A big expansion like Fallout Vegas(Which was nearly a new game) or a new Mass Effect game with the war still scrumbling…You cannot ignore the facts….Bioware is a very smart company and EA is even better…They cannot cast a series like Mass Effect outside their calendar because it’s profitable…And something new to the theory…..WHY in the Earth when you complete the game you can continue exactly before the invasion to TIM base…WHY????It’s supposed to end???IS IT????Greetings from Greece…..!!!


On March 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I’m not agreeing to or contesting the indoctrination theory, but I played Me1,Me2 and Me3 because of the story and the fact that it made you fall in love with the characters. Because of those facts alone i feel the color coded ending are a spat to the face. I worked so Hard to get all of it just right to be told any choice i make causes the entire galaxy to fall into darkness. That’s not a choice, that’s an ultimatum. Maybe Shepard was indoctrinated maybe I’ve been playing a delusion. If that’s the case than bioware isn’t some mastermind at story telling, they are liars! The whole point of mass affect up till the third installment was about choice. If this is way they wanted it to end then your only real choice thru the whole story was what color annihilated the universe.

I do hope that the developers are playing some kind of sick joke on the players by releasing a DLC that continues and finally ends the game, because at least then i wont feel completely cheated and ripped off.


On March 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

@pad7mil If I’m correct it was the same in ME2 (not so sure about the 1). Once the final mission completed, you were still on the Normandy, the last mission still available. I think it’s made like this so you can play the DLC even if you have finished the game.

By the way, thank you gamefront, merci Phil and Ross for all your work. You’ve won a new reader (with adblock down :p).


On March 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Good read.

Thought I’d play devil’s advocate while I was at it and add that through out the game, Javik, the prothean explicitly states his opinion that both Control and Synthesis are “wrong” and that Destroy is the only viable option with the Reapers.

He touches on both of these subjects during the Qurian/Geth and Kai Leng/Cerberus quest lines respectively.

Like him or not, the fact that he’s a 50,000 year old hyper-advanced psychic/clairvoyant gives his opinions on the matter some credence. Which ultimately gives “The Indoctrination Theory” credence.


On March 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Ok I have been sifting through all of the info on this theory from different sources and have made these conclusions and questions.
1. Bioware posted the following “Please note, we want to give people time to experience the game so while we can’t get into specifics right now, we will be able to address some of your questions once more people have had time to complete the game. In the meantime, we’d like to ask that you keep the non-spoiler areas of our forums and our social media channels spoiler free”. If there wasn’t something else coming why would it matter to bioware how many people have finished the game (i.e. experience it)?
2. Why are there so many plot holes in the ending? We know for a fact at this point bioware dropped things out of the ending that were already rendered. So we can assume one of three things. One Bioware for some strange reason just made a bad ending (which is fully out of character for bioware). Two the ending is intentionally obtuse for the purposes of leaving it open ended (which is a very dangerous move in terms of fan support, as we have seen). Three the ending is in fact showing a dream/hallucination/indoctrination (this would only be acceptable if the dlc is free).

So at this point i will make this statement If Bioware did not intentionally make the ending of the game with so many plot hole then this is the most disappointing experience i have had in gaming. It is hard to believe that Bioware doesnt have something more in store for us as fans. And if they didn’t before they should take this opportunity for redemption with their fans and run with it.


On March 16, 2012 at 5:58 pm

We have a choice between the literal interpretation ending where it is riddled with plot holes, has shepard acting out of character and doesn’t make sense and the indoctrination theory ending where the game is released unfinished.

The indoctrination theory would have made a great precursor and setup to the final showdown with the reapers. It is not a real ending. Shepard would be lying in the streets of london whilst the reaper destroying Earth with no resolution at all.

Hudson wanted to create an interpretive ending where people can debate what happen in the end. However that would only work if all the key interpretation makes sense. If the literal ending makes as equally sense as the indoctrination theory.

I believed that Bioware tried to do something creative, different. cerebral and original and had it backfiring in their face. Forgetting that traditional conventional ending exist because it is a tried and true method in getting a satisfying ending. That if you are going to break the convention you better be good and Bioware couldn’t show they were capable at this time at making a good “interpretive” ending.


On March 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm


ME3 is definitely not the first game in any of the Bioware series that was hugely disappointing to the fans. The latest example is probably Dragon Age 2; these are games that are supposed to give the player choices, the freedom to choose a path, to affect the world in different ways. Yet, the ending’s practically the same. No epilogue, no closure, nada.


On March 16, 2012 at 8:14 pm

“Originally, with the Catalyst, the star child at the end of the game, I had written that much more in the guise of a investigative style conversation, where there is something he tells you, but then you get to ask a bunch of questions and you get your questions answered. But then me and Casey talked and decided, let’s keep the conversation ‘high level’. Give you the details that you need to know, but don’t get into the stuff that you don’t need to know.”

That’s just garbage comment there.

The problem with this is that for Shepard not to be inquisitive would be out of his/her character.

Shepard met the main villain of the game. The catalyst was controlling the reapers and was responsible for mass extinction and Shepard didn’t scrutinised the catalyst motivations, didn’t criticsed the underlying premise of the catalyst and only offer limp criticism of the method in achieving their goal and then took everything the catalyst said at face value.

Shepard could potentially be a very opinionated and nosy character who would involve themselves and get into an argument with every main character of the game including his/her own allies. Suddenly that character attributes disappeared when meeting up with the main villain of the series.

It got ridiculous when the catalyst mention the mass relay will be destroyed and Shepard assumed that the catalyst is nice enough to destroy that without destroying whole solar system. I guess :we didn’t need to know: that huh.


On March 16, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Regardless of how the ending works out, there is something in “The Final Hours” that pretty much cements the fact that the endings are in fact not real: In the endings, you see your squad climb out of the normandy on the planet it is wrecked on: very much alive. However, looking at the deleted scenes on “The Final Hours”, you see a deleted scene in which you witness the death of your squad during the Harbinger charge.

Ok, fine, not a big deal, obviously they didn’t go with that scene. But “The Final Hours” also contains, for each deleted scene, a video of the final scene so you can compare what they were going to do with what they did do. And in that final scene, the person playing (the part where shepard limps to the beam to the citadel) very slowly and deliberately looks to the right. What are they looking at? What is very clearly Garrus’ body, lying dead on the ground. It’s a Turian, wearing his armor (the blue set), and with his eyepiece over the right eye: it’s Garrus. So how can the ending not be some form of hallucination if your squad is very clearly dead, and yet suddenly very much alive again?


On March 16, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Well I’d like to say that even if it wasn’t the original plan they could still do it, especially to appease all the fans they have pissed off. They could still turn this horrible reaction into one of the most memorable. Oh and you all should check out this video: kinda sheds light on their inspiration for the ending (not a rick roll I promise :) ).


On March 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Wait a second… @Baggs’ comment made me think of something. The Catalyst uses the term “pinnacle of evolution” when describing the synthesis option. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Sovereign use that exact phrase on Vermire? (“We are the pinnacle of evolution.”)

Andres A.

On March 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Why does no one point out the fact of the rewards of Me2 ending? These provide a Massive clue to what the ending may have been. In me2 you can do the paragon and destroy collector base or keep it intact(renegade). The renegade option provides reaper brain while reaper heart is provided with paragon choice. However there is one major contradiction in this matter. The brain supports an easier attempt to the Paragon Ending of Me3 while the heart helps you reach Renegade ending faster. Why would a paragon ending of Me2 provide support for a Renegade ending in Me3? Why would the same go for a Renegade ending in me2 to a paragon in me3? Why is the catalyst the form of the boy that haunts Shepard, which only Shepard himself knows? Of the catalyst was so powerful, why couldn’t have he simply forced the Reapers to leave the Galaxy? How did the normandy end up so far away and with everyone fine? If Anderson was with Shepard at the laser
Blast, why wasn’t he as hurt as Shepard? The supposed purpose of Reapers is to prevent synthetics from killing their masters makes no sense, why prevent synthethic revolution with synthethics? All these plot holes prevent the final endings from being the actual events. The most obvious choice would be indoctrination( flipped choices) but it may just be a dream of Shepards trying to convinc himself of not losing sight of the mission, which is to destroy the reapers


On March 17, 2012 at 12:45 am

First thing, this is by far the best thread I’ve ever read on gaming…..Thank you all. Its nice not having to listen to people who use all their brain power to tie their shoes. I’ve played all three and love them all, including the 3rd with its lessthanclear ending. Story line set aside its the best fighting action I’ve ever played. As for the Indo theory I find it makes sense and could very well be the case, but without bioware putting the last nail in the coffin with an article or DLC I find it impossible to be certain as it is after all a game designed by notsoperfect men and women. By this I mean bioware could have simply made a “poor” ending which could have unintentionally let gamer’s minds wander farther than bioware imagined. Do I think this is the case? Not exactly, but who really knows as of now? If it was purposely done, then bioware has done something unimaginable in today’s gaming world….something beautiful in a way, inspiring(good or bad), something for an intellectual to enjoy in his or her own way. The thing that bothers me the most as of now is not knowing what happens after the game is completed. What happens with each individual race? What about space travel without the mass relays?. What happens with the council(or galactic government to put it in perspective), especially since the citadel was destroyed in the end? And so on….. All in all I’m not totally disappointed with the ending but I do firmly believe bioware must do something to put minds at rest. I prefer DLC or at least some kind of story following Shepherd’s “victory”. What that DLC should be if at all I leave that to bioware. The main reason I believe they need to do something is shown by the existence of this thread. Even the intellectuals who can make meaning of the ending are either disappointed or wanting much more closure, and we here are probably in the minority, as you can probably tell by how hard it is to find a thread worth reading. That said with us being the minority, looking at it from a business point of view, bioware should definately worry about the majority in my opinion, majority being the ones too stubborn to accept the ending or try to comprehend it. I believe not doing so would cause many to shy away from bioware. Of course I want more closure too, but at least I can try to make enough sense of it to satisfy myself. That’s probably not the case for most, which I believe is why bioware needs to do something to keep them on their feet. All said and done, the Mass Effect series is by far my most favorite gaming experience and probably always will be.


On March 17, 2012 at 2:35 am

Bethesda said we wouldn’t be getting Werewolves, but we got Werewolves.


On March 17, 2012 at 5:42 am

There is even more evidence for this theory outside of the ending: in Shepard’s dream just before the final mission, he hears whispers sounding like Harbinger (or at least a Reaper) – a sign that they are inside his head.

About the ending itself – the Bioware writers are clearly not stupid, so they would not have had the boy as the visual representation of this god-like being unless it was a dream – it is just too coincidental that this random boy happens to be the cause of everything in reality – it has to be a projection of his mind. What about all the black misty stuff in the scene with the Illusive Man – they were clearly put there for a reason, very possibly to show that he is indoctrinated.

The rest is said in the video, but there may be more clues to this theory in Bioware’s announcements. Casey Hudson said that he wanted to wait for more players to finish the game before discussing the ending … maybe because he does not want to reveal on the internet spoilers about the truth of the ending?

I know its been said before as well but the man in the rubble after destroying the Reapers would be a VERY random scene if it was not Shepard – a lot more random than even the other bits of the ending. Again this must be there for a reason.

This is the last game in the trilogy – possibly the best series of this generation – why would the writers create an ending like this if there was not one final twist? It just doesnt fit, and given the quality of the rest of the game and the series, I am willing to believe that they have deliberately tricked us all.

You may think this theory is far-fetched, but why else would there be sooo many clues leading to the idea of indoctrination? If this is true then wow … Bioware are legends.


On March 17, 2012 at 8:42 am

Remember in Fallout 3, the main character can die in the end, but in a dlc he survives.


On March 17, 2012 at 9:17 am

First off, I support the Indoctrination Theory. Logically it just makes too much sense. Even if it’s not indoctrination, I still dig the endings. However, I just can’t understand how Shepard could survive the Citadel blowing up.

Also, anyone else notice that when Anderson dies and Hackett starts talking that Shepard grunts (from crawling towards the console) and speaks to Hackett at the same time? Jeff Dunham has nothing on Shepard if he’s able to make both a grunting sound and speak a perfectly sound and clear sentence at the exact same time. I figure the dialogue has to be happening on Earth.


On March 17, 2012 at 11:08 am

Given the similarities of the endings (look at the side-by-side here: I sure hope they do a better job in a DLC. I don’t mind Sheppard dying (in some ways, it is almost important that he does so the galaxy can “move on”). But the rest is just ridiculous.


On March 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Like I said earlier I find it hard to believe they would sell us an incomplete game. That being said when we watch the endings they just don’t make sense. In the one ending where we see Shepard survive he is laying in rubble that looks nothing like the Citadel. Not to mention the Citadel was in space and Shepards armor was compromised. How would he survive that explosion/decompression/rentry? The only thing that makes sense is that its all just a dream. You get the child from your dreams telling you your choices and he makes destroying the reapers sound like the worst idea ever. Then he tells you oh you can control the reapers (even after he says TIM can’t because he was indoctrinated) but it will cause you to be absorbed into the reapers. OR you can choose to evolve everyone, for a decision on them like the reapers. These two options clearly sound like things that only the reapers would do and in both of them Shepard dies. The only logical conclusion is that he is still lying in the rubble on Earth after the attack.


On March 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

If the Indoctrination theory is true, and you go from there, that would be amazing only if they don’t screw up the DLC if they do that. The whole reaction I had would be so memerable and the reaction to the DLC and new possible ending would be the same way. I really hope BioWare is trolling and inside the BioWare Bunker, they are rubbing their hands together and laughing while creating new endings that trump anyother game or movie in history.


On March 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm

if shephard suffers an injury that leaves him critically wounded and limping then how the hell does he pull of the sprint and swan dive into the beam for synthesis

Issac Dingel

On March 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hey! I simply saw one other message in another blog that seemed like this. How have you learnt all these items? That’s one cool post.


On March 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I’d rather believe the Indoctrination Theory rather than the half-baked ending(“s”) we actually got….


On March 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm

This theory gave me hope back, and I started to play again ME3, and if it will be true, it will be the….. highest ing possible superlative is not enough to express… how ing awesome the Mass Effect series is! I will buy a copy of ME1-ME2-ME3 for everyone I know!!!


On March 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I certainly hope that Bioware does NOT use this “Indoctrination Theory”! That would be the worst slap in the face yet! I’ll take a bad ending over a fake “dream” ending any day!


On March 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I personally support the indoctrination theory, bioware wanted an open ended finale so players couuld imagine and so the indro theoryy is as valid as the other endings.Before i go any further i would like to point out that one can clearly see a roof to the catalyst at 4:34 in the video, i’m suprised people missed it.


On March 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm

furthermore, I’m wondering about the idea of partial indoctrination. In which shepard was experiencing a partial reality. He really did make it to the catalyst and the choice he made involving the reapers was finale, but his mind hullucinated the characters around him. The choice he made was real and when you destroy the reapers (if you chose to) you broke free from reaper control. The three options were as real as the rest of the game, but the reaper indoctrination was trying to push you towards synthesis and control. When you destroy the reapers the indoctrination ends. The choice was real, the characters and conversations aboard the citadel weren’t.


On March 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm

sadly what i heard was that orginally they did plan to have a fourth ending that had shepard indoctrinated but they dropped it because bioware felt that it would be to difficult to write out his/her lines and couldn’t figure out a way to make it believable…………which sadly would mean that all the indoctrinated theory evidence is just stuff they forgot or was to lazy to take out.


On March 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Did anyone watch after the Credits?


On March 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I wonder if anyone thought this way: WHAT IF players were not just indoctrinated during the ending, but we’re STILL being indoctrinated by BW? Which would mean they planned it all along EXACTLY this way, including /nerdrage from fans, depressing fangirls, all theorycrafters banging their heads on the wall, collecting proves AND feeding bunch of vague disproves to skeptics to make it burn even stronger? Then the suddenly released iPad app Final Hours could be exactly that: part of the ‘IRL indoctrination’ on behalf of our dear BioWare-slash-Reapers? All those tweets and posts with double meanings, allowing skeptics to push towards “nah, they nearly confirmed there’s nothing more” side, which leads to even more evidences to The Theory. Rumors of DLC, that been responded with what exactly? ‘would we really call dlc like that?’ Srsly? Like, yes, quite possibly? Or even if not, it says not a word about ‘there’s no dlc comming’. Even the interviews from Final Hours do not include any CLEAR evidence that it was only a scrapped plan – most of phrases could point to different things, if you read it from different angles. And that if those are real things – we have official response that it is NOT BIOWARE APP, just one man of theirs. Unlikely unapproved, but could it be all the way just to mess with players even more? For example, everything that was quoted here may relate to the game, intentionally excluding the ‘real ending’, i.e. “let’s keep more secrets, so ppl would talk and remeber, blah blah” could be just missing the “…for a couple weeks, untill we release the real thing and THEN we could say for sure noone will ever forget this game”.

Anyway, why i even bother thinking this way? Because all this is too similar kind of an argue to pretty much anything you can’t get actual proves, but everyone can see a bunch of things that just too much to ignore. A good analogy here would be the real-world alien visitors question. Or whatever, take your pick. But that’s something that could be played on, if one would like the idea of global mind blowing and making sure the game is never forgotten. To show the world that there are actual people capable of spending weeks to brainstorm _a game ending_ and stand firm for the result of their research despite all those who prefer to assume authors are bat-crazy, lame, greedy or plane idiots to pull so much little details into their very own game. And don’t forget that everything, even tiny bits of textures, sounds or character movements are actually coded and placed there by real people, and not even thing like character eyes could get there for no reason – IT’S NOT THE REAL WORLD, no accidents here possible (aside from bugs, which it is clearly not). So we can safely assume if there’s thing like blood on character comming from unexisted before woond (and disappearing soon after) – it’s there for a reason. If there’s 1M1 letters inside the citadel – it’s there because someone planted it there, and for sure the devs saw that part million times before releasing and would’ve pin glitch like that if it was the case. If the kid says ‘WAKE UP’ to character, it’s for sure has it’s reasons, coz those dialogs took alot of work on before they’ve been sounded, which means it was intended. Why put so much work into details that would be missed by 95% players? Why all those long proved as great authors would write clearly lacking the very thing every player came this far was aiming for: answers, the conclusion? What, you REALLY think they never thought of what kind reaction would follow if they release it like this? Rly?! Those guys who pulled off so many awesome storylines that made you live Commander Sheppard’s life like it was yours? Do you really even consider it is the best they could’ve do and even hope it’d make them remembered? Of course not. Even some brief family-and-friends tests would show that only 1 of 10 is ok with this ending. And the rest are not just been unhappy or picky – they’re angry on obvious plot holes, all this surreal green DNA stuff, characters been ported on Normandy for no reason and crushing on random paradise world LIKE IT’S A BLOODY DREAM OF DYING SHEP. No need to show thing like that to all players to understand it’s by no means could be satisfying ending, even with all that ‘we want mystery and talks’ assumptions. Hell, even their own team would stop them from shipping something like that – UNLESS they knew it’s not what it looks like.

Why would they do all this?

There’s just one realistic answer: it all goes as intended.

PS: sorry if my english isn’t good enough, not my first lang.


On March 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm

After reading the article and seeing the email replies from Mass Effect, it is painfully obvious that Bioware is the devious mastermind that we think they might be. Hopefully the DLC is free or REALLY cheap. I’ll be waiting.


On March 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

The fans are all indoctrinated, trying to fulfill the Reapers’ goal: Bring order to the chaos that is the ending of the game. Genius


On March 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm

IFor doubters, run away from the kid in dreams and keep running away when it tries to turn you towards him. Gets a bit creepy, for best effect do this in dream 2.

Edgardo R.

On March 17, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I do not know much about this whole indo theory but I can say that this may very well be an option. Now that I have that stated I can also say that I loved the ending to This Mass effect trilogy. It makes sense to me as much as the indo theory seems to some people. This ending reminds me of a little thing called Inception. Remember that movie and its plot. The end was not really an ending just like this yet everyone learned to live with it. It forced you to make up your own outcome as well as how this makes you choose your outcome. The whole Shepard dieing is necessary because he was bound to die at some point even if he lived past this. It would make no sense to let Shepard live and just end the story there so why not kill him. Another movie comes to mind with what is said by the Stargazer which is Immortal in which *SPOILER* the main guy dies but turns to a god hmmm sound familiar? The point is this ending is not as horrible as you guys are making it seem. Sure it seems half assed but so did fallout 3 and yet fallout new vegas came out and was just as popular as well as there being DLC for both games. If this whole indo theory is correct then stop your whining and let it be just like you guys let the day 1 DLC be. Also if it is correct the i feel that bioware hass sucessfully pulled off some kind of inception on a mass load of people. I know my ideas are kind of vague but ill be happy to clarify my ideas if needed at edmon@ hotmail. com


On March 18, 2012 at 4:07 am

More than likely it’s a dream.

Large parts of the USA were “punked” in the 1980s when “Dallas” had an entire season that was just a dream by a character..


On March 18, 2012 at 6:14 am

If it is true, the DLC must be free. There’s no way I pay to have the true ending that should have been in the game in the first place.

Jim P

On March 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Seriously, guys. You have been great in your coverage of fan reaction to ME3. You’ve done a fantastic service in providing a voice to the disheartened masses that are being further insulted by accusations of being “entitled” or too unintelligent to appreciate art. On a personal note, thank you.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm

@Jim P

Thank you! We very much appreciate the positive responses. More coming this week!


On March 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I’m not sure whether it’s already mentioned in this article, but the theory could also be supported by the fact that Shepard is not supposed to be alive if he chose to “Destroy” all synthetics, seeing as he is one himself.

someone with questions

On March 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

the flaw in this, is that most assume that indoctrination occured when the beam hit. if that is the case, then why does 3 husks, and a murader attack you? if you are actually indoctrinated, they would likely let you live since sheppard above all else would have the most influence in convincing people of the “right choice” of synthesis. You could say that indoctrination is less of a hammer, and more of a subtle nudging, so in that sense, by making it seem as though sheppard was fightng the reapers and the likes, and then comes to the synthesis decision on his own – or at least how it was made to seem for sheppard – might make sense, but it is not a level of complexity that I am willing to grant bioware.

It is like the end of the futurama episode where bender gets a forced upgrade, and he ends up going through an experience that makes him like the newest robot model. He finished the upgrade, he asks
“If that stuff wasn’t real, how can I be sure anything is real? Is it not possible, nay, probable that my whole life is just a product of my or someone else’s imagination?” the Clerk then says “No, get out. Next!”

It will remain to be seen, but it appears for now, that the fans have put more effort into justifying an ending then bioware did.

at best, sheppard is dreaming – or indoctrinated – and he does wake up, but that leaves us with no ending actually, because we don’t know how any of our choices play out.

strange way to end it.


On March 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Perhaps this ending was just a initiation by the Catalyst to determine if Shep is still committed in destroying the reaper threat.

And maybe in the upcoming DLC we will journey through series of tests made by the Catalyst in a Farscape-like John Chricton manical-mindtravelling fashion?
The very idea cracks me up!
Also has anyone noticed the BSG similarities?


On March 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm

i did a little digging, true it was wiki but i trust it just enough for this, this is what i came up with.


On March 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm

i did a little digging, true it was wiki but i trust it just enough for this, this is what i came up with.


On March 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm

did not mean to post that unfinished. when you get up after being hit with harbingers laser, a song came to mind, Bohemian Rhapsody by queen i think. as i qoute, “Open your eyes, look up the the skies and see,” and “anyway the wind blows doesnt really matter”. after googleing anyway the wind blows, as it didnt make sense to me in context of the game as the first portion did, i found a movie set in Antwerp about 8 people whose reality was not as it seemed and they were in a “dreamlike state”. i then googled Antwerp, and the name comes from a man that slayed a “giant” by cutting off his hand and casting it into a river. I know, not all that impressive, even if you imagine reapers as giants and shepard as their slayer. however, antwerp is only one form of the word, the rough translation is hand werpen, or more currently, hand warp. im not saying that this is any more than a few coincedences strung together into a not entirely corporeal thought that may have no berring on anything at all, especially as the “coincedences” progress, but it is a thought, and it may spark a new more valid thought in someone else about how the ending of mass effect 3 may be related to something similar, and either way, i found the relation to the song to be even if on its own an interesting thought

someone with questions

On March 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

i guess the one other thing I would add about this … having just played it again based on what people have said … is in the game mechanic itself; a red choice has always been renegade through out mass effect 1,2 and 3. So if you assume the IT, and that killing them is bad/renegade and thefore red because they are trying to dissuade you, fine. However, once you made that choice – which in IT, would actually be the right choice – then why is it still red as it spreads through the galaxy? Shouldn’t it be another colour, because it is the actual right choice! It might be the blue choice, which is usually considered the more approperiate choice, at the very least, it should be a neutral colour. In fact, Control should be red, Synthesis should be blue, and destroy be green, keeping with the lore established in past games.

as well, if it was the right choice, and Sheppard beat indoctrination, then why does he have to still have a pleasant dream about his squad mates being safe on a new world? shouldn’t he just wake up, and go to it? I get the dream part for the other “failed” choices if you will, but if that is the right choice, then he doesn’t need to drift off into indoctrination land believing the best.

Michael M

On March 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I seriously hope that indoctrination theory turns out to be true. However, the major problem with this theory is that synthesis is only an option to players who destroyed the collector base in me2 and had a high Effecting Strength. Why would another indoctrinating option be unlocked only to players who made the “right” decision in ME2? Either way, take ME3 Back.


On March 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I didn’t read through all the comments, but I really do hope the “Indoctrination Theory” is true. I still have faith in Bioware that they either had something very similar to this planned all along, they’ll listen to their fans and adapt the “real” crap ending to it, or they have something new to the end that magically makes us happy.

I want to know why Kaidan decided to GTFO with Joker after he fed Shep some BS about wanting to fight like hell to hold her one more time because he can’t stand to lose her again. Shepard destroys Reapers, Kaidan abandons his home and the woman he loves with Joker, Shepard wakes up in a pile of rubble back on Earth. The Normandy scene better have been some sort of dream full of wishful thinking, because…really?


On March 18, 2012 at 5:37 pm

“synthesis is only an option to players who destroyed the collector base in me2 and had a high Effecting Strength”
Not true. I gave the base to TIM and had only ~3700 EMS (with 50%, no multiplayer, etc), and i had that option.
Plus it might’ve been another trick to convince players the green one is the best one.

As for questions like ‘why there are mobs attacking’, ‘why the colors go wrong on the galaxy’, etc – i’m quite sure if the indoctrination was the case, then pretty much EVERYTHING starting from the hit has nothing to do with real world (err… Shep’s real world that is). Which means there’s NO real-world choices, no talking to TIM (he has no reason to be there anyway), no Anderson (he might be dead or knocked out as well), no shiny colorful waves of magical powers spreading across the universe with its magical color-coded means, no Normandy crashing on utopia-like planet. Nothing at all. It could as well take just few moments between the hit and the moment Shep wakes up (or turning crazy reaper agent like TIM in control or probably dying in synthesis). I can probably even see the explanation why there’s no waking up if there’s not enough EMS – for example, it might make the difference if that extra EMS distracted the bastard long enough before Shepard managed to regain control over his mind.
As i see it, next probably be either Anderson or squardmates (if enough EMS) finding commander and helping him to get to the real beam, to the real citadel, that’d probably look nothing like what we saw.


On March 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm

One thing that I absolutely have to know is why the platform rose up with Shepard on it. There he was passed out, dieing and yet the platform rises up on its own. If I was the little A.I. child I would not have brought him up there to potentially make a decision that could overthrow millions of years of success?


On March 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I noticed another couple pieces of evidence in support of this hallucination/indoctrination theory that made me give pause when playing it.

1) If the player is quick enough, you see Harbinger get up and leave. Imagine that for a second. Harbinger’s whole motive behind the attack was to completely eliminate all opposition attempting to board the Citadel. Now, I cannot imagine the sensory powers of an ancient Reaper, but I would assert that seeing two humans, Shepard AND Anderson (he followed behind you, remember?) would have been cause enough for him to shoot another laser beam and be done with it. I can’t fathom the plausibility of Harbinger just shrugging and going away, leaving someone alive to finish the job.

2) During that same scene where Shepard stumbles into the teleporter, we hear on the radio chatter ” Did anyone make it into the teleporter?” We hear a firm “Negative”. Now why wouldn’t Shepard answer back immediately? “Hey, I’m still alive…heading in…”.

On that same note, how was he able to contact Anderson at all? In every cutscene in the ME series, we see him/her toggling the “speak” button around their ear, signifying communication. Anyone else notice how he’s just talking and Anderson can magically hear him? Neat trick for a suit of armor that just got melted.


On March 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I’m not sure if anyone has said this already, and maybe I am going off on a tangent, but is it not possible that Saren from the first game was indoctrinated and came to the synthesis conclusion; TIM from the second, also indoctrinated came to the control conclusion, and that Shepard is meant to come to the destroy conclusion? All three characters are regarded as strong willed and amongst the best, were the first two an allusion to direct the player to pick the destroy option?


On March 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I have played this franchise since the begining and have really enjoyed it. And after reading most of these posts I’m impressed by the the depth of thought many have put into their gaming experience.

It demonstrates that gaming has evolved into a full fledged form of social entertainment.

My thoughts on the ending… not so different in plot to Matrix trilogy, 2001 a space odyssey or even ancient mythology… evolution of the created begins to challenge the creators… mass extinction in some form is the solution…

back to ME3 ,,, the game is built on the premise of free choice (withing the programming constaints of a game) and the concequences of those choices…

Presumably, for hundreds of millenia, the catalyst has used the reapers to ‘harvest’ the most advanced races, allowing the younger races a chance to advance…

In the case of the Prothians, long thought to be benevolent thinkers by the current ME races, turned out to be no different from ancient Rome, concurring all other races under their banner… that the catalyst would see it necessary to destroy them, so the younger races could evolve independently makes perfect sense…

But in the current timeline, while there have been wars between the geth and other synthetics, Shepard has had the opportunity to treat them as beings, rather than machines, and for those of us playing as Shepard, who made those choices, we were rewarded with Legion, and later the entire race of Geth to fight along side us. And for the Quarthians, who were unable to accept them as equals, they perished. The creation of the modern Krogan (syntheticly evolved by the Salarians) we also feared once they we no longer controllable. Once again Shepard has the opportunity to see them as equals and is rewarded with staunch allies. (and a few pissed off Salarians). For the most part the races are still independent, yet not quite working together.

And throughout time, each cycle has advanced their ability to stave off extinction by the reapers by building on the knowledge of those before them…

But not until someone as strong willed as Shepard comes along that the races can be united under one purpose, working together to gather the pieces of the puzzle, quite possibly pieces left by the catalyst himself…

He is able to resist the indoctrination, he is able to see synthetics like the Geth and EDI as autonomous life forms, able to make their own decisions and be treated as equals.

With Shepards help, the Crucible is constructed, and the joining of the crucible to the citidel opens new options for the catalyst… All three choices are acceptable to the catalyst… because all three will end the current cycle….

The first choice of control, makes shepard the new catalyst…. he will have to determine how to ensure that young races are allowed to flourish… or not… so 50,000 years from now he may be controlling the reapers to whatever end he sees fit… so it really doesn’t solve the problem…

The second choice, destroy, will also end the cycle, but clearly does not end the problem… it is possible that the work shepard has done to unite the races, including seeing the ‘humanity’ in EDI’s AI, or Legion will survive for a while… but ultimately probably not… and certainly not without Shepard to hold it together….

Option 3… synthisis is a new option made available by Shepard being aboard the crucible/citidel…. the combining of synthetic and organic life…. which catalyst points out reflects the current universe… with synthetic implants and AI’s acting more like organics…

I chose 3 the first time through because it was a natural choice for my Shepard…. I then tried the other 2 options after reading these posts and still find my shepard comfortible with his choice of option 3

And did anyone notice that the leaves in the begining of the flash forward have circuits in them? (for those that chose option 3)

The stargazer represent the point in the next cycle when travel between the systems is again possible, or at least within imagination… and in all three endings Shepard is spoken of as a prophet …. or at least a legend, implying that the accounts of the choices he made have become something of a religion, a new way of thinking that perhaps will influence how those living in this cycle will evolve…

I don’t have a problem with the endings, in fact the passion displayed by the fans, even those that hate it, proves that BW has created something that will stay with people long after they have finished the game…

Thanks for reading.


On March 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I understand where you are coming from Wolvesheart, and I appreciate the time you took to laying out why you are satisfied with the current endings.

However, have you read “Mass Effect 3 Ending-Hatred: 5 Reasons The Fans Are Right?” It’s an article posted on gamefront, similar to this article, and it is an enlightening documentation of the primary problems with the ending. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I would recommend giving it a good read and considering if you agree or disagree with the provided conclusion of the article.

Just a thought for those who find no problems with the ending.


On March 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I have to say the biggest evidence for Indoctrination theory is to consider the alternative: that Carey Hudson and the ME3 writing staff all suffered communal sudden onset mental retardation.

Without indoctrination the ending is awful, vague, and rife with plot holes. It is nonsensical to such an astounding degree that M. Night Shamalamadingdong would boggle. It is bizarre beyond belief to finish the series that way, from a group that produced hours of stellar gameplay and writing in the entire rest of the series. In short it doesn’t fit.

The other thing that occurs to me is this: EA is always looking for new ways to screw over the pirates. Releasing the ending as (possibly even free) DLC accomplishes that rather nicely.


On March 18, 2012 at 11:52 pm

The answers to many of the questions proposed by the video are answered simply, it is a dream-like state because the man just sustained a concussion. Why does he have a mechanical gun? It is the same pistol that constantly shows up in the cut scenes throughout the entire series. Why does it have unlimited ammo? The real question is, why did guns STOP having unlimited ammo? Are those tentacles indoctrination? Sort of, the Illusive Man flat out tells you that he is controlling you. Why does the Illusive Man look as he does? He actually looks more like the Shepard that chooses the “blue ending” than he does Saren. The “blue ending” is of course the ending that results in Shepard “controlling” the Reapers. We know that the Illusive Man is indoctrinated at this point, so yes of course, in fact, through Paragon, Shepard is able to convince the Illusive Man that he is indoctrinated which results in him taking his life as what happened when Saren realized that. And what are you talking about? The whole room is windows and there is clearly a roof.

Needless to say, I think you are grasping at straws, however, I believe that with enough public outrage, Bioware may very well release this “Truth DLC” and it may even be similar to what you are proposing. However, if you want the actual scoop on why it ended the way it did, you should check out The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3.


On March 19, 2012 at 12:37 am

At this point, I’m about 80% convinced that this whole thing is a massive mindf*&k perpetrated upon all of us by BioWare. They’re just too good at storytelling to make this kind of mistake – as you say, it’s “anomalously bad.” We’re dealing with the people who made KotOR here, not the people who made KotOR II (the ending of that still sticks in my craw). What with the soldier in N7 armor taking a breath, the cryptic statements from BioWare (none of which actually refute the idea – they’re clearly choosing their words very, very carefully, which actually tells me that they’re hiding something) and everything else, it has to be a setup for something more to come, probably in the very near future (ie 1-2 weeks – you can’t wait too long with this sort of thing; people will move on and the “gotcha” moment will lose potency). For me, this has turned into less a question of “if” than a question of “when.”

At this point, I’d feel fairly comfortably betting money (not a lot of money, mind you, but still money) that we’re about to witness one of the most jaw-dropping and controversial moments in gaming history – something that’ll be on top 10 lists for years to come.

They just better not make me pay for it. That would be crossing a line.


On March 19, 2012 at 12:54 am

I agree with Skaldfish. This, if true, is not a staggering feat at all. All Bioware has done is convince its audience that they are incompetent fools who cannot write a decent story, by presenting convincing evidence that they are incompetent fools who cannot write a decent story. Wow, congratulations Bioware, you sure got us -_-.


On March 19, 2012 at 2:51 am

The ‘It’s in your Imagination…’ theories;

That’s all well and good, and I like stories that make me think time to time, stories that ask me questions. However, I don’t pay £40 to use my imagination, I do that for free. If I wanted to take your universe and imagine all over it, I’d be writing fanfiction. Please, tell me a story.

I chose Synthesis, I was conned in my view. I intend to redo the mission and chose Destroy. The game has hinted many times at simply destroying the Reapers being the only outcome.

But then – was Shepard indocrenated from the start? The beginining never did give many answers, and that annoying child was there from the get go. See, leaving this open only leads to a whole tome of questions and theories, each possible and with only dozens more questions attached!


On March 19, 2012 at 6:45 am

Thank you for this informative, well-written article. Also, thanks to all the fans who have explored this theory in great detail.

After finishing the game and finding this theory, I also suspected dream/indoctrination experience for the ending. After thinking about, Bioware must make it about indoctrination for its integrity. I do not mean to save face with its fans/customers. I mean to save face with its story construct. Since the first game, Indoctrination has been an underlying theme. Bioware has emphasized that it is subtle and yet one of the Reapers most powerful weapons – turning friends/loved ones against each other. Bioware also has repeatedly given us more and more info. on how it works. Fact: If you stay around Reaper tech, you will get indoctrinated no matter who you are.

So here is the question that challenges Bioware’s story integrity: How can Shepard not be indoctrinated by the end? He/She has been exposed repeatedly to strong Reaper Tech. Also, do we really know what tech TIM used to rebuild Shepard? What if some was Reaper Tech? If Saren and TIM, very strong-willed people, can become indoctrinated, then why not Shepard? In order to maintain the theme of the story and its integrity, Bioware should have implied or shown Shepard being indoctrinated as well. Or at least, trying to fight it off. So if you think about the subtle hints throughout ME3, it may be that they were doing this all along. The end would then simply be the culmination of Harbinger’s attempt to “assume control” of Shepard.

I am not in denial about the endings. I liked mine except for the lack of epilogue. I actually do not want it to be a dream. Especially if I am asked to pay to see the “real” ending in some future DLC. Bioware stated that we would experience the conclusion of Shepard’s story. That is what I expected and wanted. If the last 10 minutes were all a dream, then yes, I would be extremely disappointed with the game and Bioware. It would mean that they falsely advertised what their product would deliver. And worse, at a later date, will ask me to pay more money to see “what really happened.”


On March 19, 2012 at 7:07 am

At this point it really doesn’t matter whether they intended this or not. If they didn’t, then they wrote an ending full of glaring plot-holes, a lazy quick-fix end to an otherwise awesome series, or, an ingenious “to be continued”. If it’s the latter then kudos for the ingenuity and I’ll happily pay the 20 bucks to find out what really happened (bringing the total cost of this game to ~150 bucks including an online pass, xbox live subscription and 100 bucks for the game).

If it’s the former, then the over-analysis of an imaginative, emotionally invested fan base has given Bioware a golden parachute which will actually end up making them more money “that crappy first ending? yeah that was crappy on purpose to trick you, totally on purpose. Give us another 20 bucks and you can see the REAL ending”. Win win for bioware.


On March 19, 2012 at 7:12 am

FYI, the false reality wool-over-the-eyes ending isn’t new. We saw it in the Terry Gilliam film Brazil (colloquially referred to as the “brazil ending”), and in the film “repo men”.

for anyone not paying attention, it’s also subtly referred to at the end of the “geth consensus” mission, if you speak to joker he says “how do you know you’ve really left the virtual world? couldn’t this all be a virtual reality simulation?” so it wouldn’t be totally implausible for bioware to resort to this clique.


On March 19, 2012 at 7:26 am


If Shepard got axed on his way toward the beam, why would the reapers bother indoctrinating him? Isn’t he half dead in a laser-blasted heap next to the beam? He’s about 5 minutes from death from internal and external bleeding so who cares? Also he’s NOT in a reaper ship, and has no contact with reaper tech when he gets taken out, so how exactly are the reapers influencing him?

Comments? Anyone?

Richard C.

On March 19, 2012 at 9:03 am

I suppose because ME2 made it fairly clear that the Reapers respect our Shep. Having him/her as the guiding intelligence of a Human-pattern Reaper would still be desirable.

As to how – shed load of implants in Shepherd, implants based on tech they planned for us to have, tech they could interface with. Maybe it just took time.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here – I don’t really buy the Indoctrination Theory. If it plays out, I won’t be thinking “aren’t BioWare clever?” I’ll be thinking, “rhymes with ‘hunts’.”

Richard C.

On March 19, 2012 at 9:06 am

Off topic but, why didn’t the Reapers put some kind of IFF on _all_ the Mass Relays? Doubt it’d have taken centuries to wipe out the Protheans if they could nip from system to system destroying them piecemeal.


On March 19, 2012 at 9:14 am

“If Shepard got axed on his way toward the beam, why would the reapers bother indoctrinating him?”
Umm… Like, maybe, just maybe… all those “you will submit to out will”, “you will fail, we are your salvation” and the rest blah blah from Harbinger might have a clue to this, don’t you think? :P It’s not like he really aimed to kill Sheppard from the start. It’s more of BREAKING HIS WILL, before/instead of killing. Could be if not killed after picking ‘control’ option, he is supposed not to die instantly, but basically becaming the second Illusive Man (or Saren), to help them finish the job (coz otherwise there still be resistance left for a while). Plus there’s not much evidence of how much he wounded on real world – the fact that he’s barely moving in his indoctrination dream could mean nearly nothing (or more like indicate the state of his will). In reality he might’ve been just knocked out, banging his head on some London building part or whatever it is around him (or her, ofc), after dodging the lazer. We can see his armor is in poor state, but that’s kinda the reason those guys use armor – so it takes most of the hit, plus shields, and the person can stay more or less intact inside.


On March 19, 2012 at 9:47 am

I don’t know why people keep saying that the “Final Hours” app disproves the Indoctrination theory. If anything, it strengthens it. They never say they threw that ending away, it says they threw a gameplay mechanic where you were indoctrinated away. A good reason for throwing that gameplay concept away is if you decided that you didn’t want it to be obvious what was going on in that ending.


On March 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I’ve read everything on this page, up from ‘Mass’ down to ‘Submit Comment’ and I will say this… A lot of these theories are very thought out, however, would it not phase you that Bioware would just say something like “Yea, we were just kiddin’ here’s a DLC, my sweet”? Personally I found the ending at best underwhelming, but it’s significantly better then the above quote, I respect Bioware for it’s work in the Mass Effect series but it’s just like all good games, Halo began similarly and now they’re making spin-offs left and right, If there was a Mass Effect 4 I would be happy to make the purchase BUT they better blow my mind…

Personally, I blame the “Rushed ending” on EA, they’re responsible for 110% of games problems..

commander shepard

On March 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm

people need to do a ctrl + f and read the post by baggs cos he pretty much nails it.

believing the indoctrination theory is not “clutching at straws”. It is easily possible that Bioware wanted to make this ending one of the most thought provoking endings to a game there has ever been.

People repeatedly state that the ending is littered with plotholes – no its not. Do you really think that after 5 years of development, the production team one of the best selling and highest rating series ever just forgot to put an ammo capacity on Shepard’s gun? Or that they got the colours at the end mixed up? Or that the catalyst looks exactly like the little boy Shepard sees in his dreams etc because they couldn’t be bothered to design a new model? Be serious.

I won’t ramble about the indoctrination theory and the in game events which support (of which there are many). People ask the question, “where is your proof?” to supporters of the indoctrination theory – there is no “proof” obviously because there simply can’t be since the Bioware team are the only one’s who know the real concept behind the ending.

For me personally, it seems fairly obvious that there are frequent signs of the reapers trying to indoctrinate Shepard throughout the game (again read the many articles out there). Shepard is knocked unconscious by the laser at the end, and everything from when you awaken is an internal struggle within Shepards mind to resist indoctrination. Better than that however, it is a test of the player to see if they can resist the indoctrination. Anderson and TIM are Shepard’s conscience and the boy is a reaper manifestation within Shepards mind trying to sway him towards breaking. The choices at the end don’t decide the fate of the galaxy, they are simply choices within Shepard’s mind to see if he can resist the indoctrination: the odds are stacked against him 2:1. If you make the right choice (to destroy) you break from the reaper’s control and reawaken back on earth ready for the final push.

I think what a lot of people have trouble with is accepting that they made the wrong choice and therefore blame the game. They were fooled by the reapers and failed in their mission, but rather than see that they got it wrong, they just blame Bioware for making a silly ending which doesnt make sense (even though it really does). Think about the nature of the mass effect series and the time and effort which has gone into it, it is a complex and immersive game, and what better way to end it than to fully immerse the player in the game by essentially trying to fool/indoctrinate the player.

For me this is probably the best videogame ending i’ve ever had (if it is the case). I am interested to see what Bioware say. However it is not perfect. An epilogue is needed and really should have been included. If you made the wrong choice, tough luck: you lose. You should be presented with a cutscene and ending which shows this. If you made the right choice and resisted indoctrination, you should be able to fight on and defeat the reapers. Players deserve to see this happen. Then it would be simple for a final cutscene which showed the post-reaper war galaxy and the state it was in based on the choices you made throughout the game – it could be chaos or harmony depending on what you did. I understand that perhaps Bioware wanted to leave it up to the users imagination, for example I can imagine that Shepard did manage to get aboard the citadel and the reapers were stopped. But because i made so many bad choices in the game series, the resulting post-war galaxy would be chaotic and be warring and misery – leading me to question whether i did the right thing in destroying the reapers after all. This, for me, is powerful and I enjoy not needing my hand held – being given the chance to think things through and work it out on my own. But i fully understand why many players would not want this because of the many different outcomes there could be. People like a sense of closure.

The bottom line is – use your imagination! Don’t expect to be spoonfed everything. Its obvious Bioware wanted to you to think things through on your own and draw your own conclusions which you would form based on the hours of gameplay and individual choices you made throughout the series. Of course this appears to have been an enormous blunder as they have tried to make mass effect transcend other video games in terms of its immersiveness, but people want definitive answers rather than to draw their own conclusions. I desperately want this as I am happy making my own (probably cos Shepard lived on mine), but i suppose i understand where other people are coming from as well.

commander shepard

On March 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

*I don’t desperately want this* i should say at the end there – referring to a definitive answer.


On March 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I’m on the fence about the entire situation. For a few reasons. First is this snippet from the message from Mr. Hudson; “So we designed Mass Effect 3 to be a series of endings to key plots and storylines, each culminating in scenes that show you the consequences of your actions. You then carry the knowledge of these consequences with you as you complete the final moments of your journey.”

This implies to me that they intended Mass Effect 3 to be, in effect, one big ending. A large rap up to various things started in the previous games and giving them all their sort of ‘miniature’ endings. The ‘ending’ of the game as we’ve come to know it being more of a finale. While I can rap my head around the concept of multiple, individual endings to separate story arcs; I’ll be the first to say that the concept does not come off as intuitive to a player at all. When I, and by large anyone else I’d imagine, think of conclusions and endings, we think of the moment before the credits roll (and possibly any small bits afterward).

To think that the branching endings they meant might have been referring to various plot threads established in the previous games and seen through to their end in the game play leading up to the final events in Mass Effect 3 puts me on the fence about the whole thing entirely. On the one hand, I can understand the events if that was what they meant. However, they would be extremely naive to think that it would be something easily accepted, or even recognized, by the vast majority; if for no other reason than how we, as players, have come to define what a game’s ‘end’ is to us.

Add to it the fact that the game’s various, nearly identical endings, ruling out all theories and utilizing face value and the game’s facts as established by various codex and missions, make an absolute mess of established lore and mechanics. The best example being Joker’s scene. Had that one part been removed, I could digest the endings better, and possibly write off the Mass Relay’s going up as a different form of detonation that doesn’t result in mass extinction for the system it is contained in. A stretch? Of course. But what really throws the entire ending sequences straight into the drink seems to be Joker’s moment.

Second, and last, reason keeping my firmly planted in the neutral zone of this whole situation is the Indoctrination Theory. While compelling evidence has been rounded up supporting the idea, the problem I have is just that. It’s an idea. A theory. It could be true, or it could be players grasping at induction straws. Ports. You know.

It isn’t that players aren’t justified to make their own ideas, it’s that BioWare can use this Theory to ‘save face.’

If they truly screwed up and wrote the endings we see as the definitive, then they dropped the ball something fierce. If they did, in fact, have this whole indoctrination idea, then it comes off as this amazing (albeit paranoia inducing) mock ending. The problem is that we don’t know which one it is.

If BioWare really did make this mock ending, then turn around a month later, and release the ‘real ending’, BioWare saves face, pulls off what would be considered genius by many, and people are, in the end, satisfied. However, if BioWare really did drop the ball, and those endings really were them punting the whole series into the drink, all they need to do is release the ‘real ending’ and take credit for this Indoctrination Theory, getting all the benefits as if it was their idea from day one, without any penalty for making a mess of things.

I loved the games and I was not happy with the ending, if taken at face value. If not, then I agree that it would be a very slick trick. However, I don’t think I can get over the possibility that they may use this Indoctrination Theory as simply a means to save face, saying it was their plan all along, when it was just a series of coincidences discovered by players desperate to make heads or tails of the ending they intended to provided, and they just exploited it as a scapegoat.

Either way, I’m just going to ride this storm to it’s conclusion. I can’t really do anything other than that.


On March 20, 2012 at 4:27 am

What is it exactly we are seeing in the Destroy ending? A couple of dog tags? Based on low res footage i’ve seen from youtube I am not certain what specifically is happening in there, a person taking a breath.(in the middle I thought was teeth, but thats just me.)

Because I choosed the Control to save my friends, ergo not seeing the (final)gasp in the rubble. I mindlessly and blindly believed the lies of the game/space kid and didn’t think there’s something else to it. But I strongly believe the IT must be the only viable answer to a nightmare ending to any of the 3 presented ones.

Also about the part that people having gotten a Critical Mission error about Crucible being destroyed, I walked right up the left ramp and started thinking, can I speak to the kid again, and walked back to him/her/IT?. And went besides him, nothing, walked back to Control. But no error message? Is that just me, or was I doubting my self for a second back then, trying to free myself from indoctrination? (even tried to busta few caps in the kid) could’a, would’a, should’a


On March 20, 2012 at 5:50 am

If you want an end that makes sens or the IT to be real, join the force !

For now it is clear for me that Bioware didn’t plan anything, they just don’t admit in front of the fans, so everyone can keep talking about something that don’t even exists and forget that they screw up their ending.


On March 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Another sufferer of indoctrination

He actually thinks letting machines destroy him is the only way to keep organics going now.


On March 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Just a bit more evidence to the theory that I don’t think has been said yet in these comments:

Didn’t Hackett/some military guy (cant remember exactly) confirm that the whole squad had been decimated by Harbinger, yet on the Citadel Hackett calls in to tell Shepard that the Crucible is not working … surely he would have thought that Shepard was dead … ?


On March 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I don’t think that this ending was made in a rush. After finishing the game, reading through the forums, I finally decided to check out the leaked script, that emerged months ago. And it turns out that the Catalyst, Crucible and the Starchild was already present there. So, they didn’t change the ending. That might mean, that a bigger plan was already in play. To take the dangerous road and piss the players for some time and then make a DLC, which would make our jaws drop and rainbow.

On the other hand, of course, they might have not recieved enough time from EA, which decided that enough is enough and ME3 is shipping out March 2012.
Notice the steady decilne of BioWare games’ quality since becoming a part of EA. *cough* DA2 *cough*

I am aware that all of us, ME fans, are furious and lingering for a little something to make this nightmare go away.
And that’s not completely dumb. BioWare has put enormous effort into creating a consistent universe, with lots of detail. The writing may have been off on occasion, but to believe, that after almost 2,5 years of developing ME3, all they came up with for the finale was three colors… meh, something’s off.

IMHO, there are two options:
a) BioWare decided to go all the way and risk a lot for the sake of becoming legendary for the ME3 stunt. First by making all of us go banans about the ending and then hitting us straight in the balls with a true ending in DLC.
Many would then start BioWare churches all around the globe
b) BioWare has been indoctrinated by EA and any forthcoming games will be of the same quality as ME3. Deadline is deadline, somebody accepted the script and all they could do was to hype up the expectations and then try to convince us, that the ending has more to it, then it appears. And that would be utter BS.
DA3 is already in development and it’s date will be pushed by the publisher just to make enough money to meet their quarterly/yearly targets. Therefore, BioWare is dead.
They might think they aren’t, but it’s already a fact.

So, IMHO: either BW is a step away from becoming an industry legend or a complete sold-out to the big dollar.

And if you take into consideration, that they want to make more $$ on the ME universe, then ME3′s finale wouldn’t be a good business choice for that. IF the pull a stunt like explained in a, 99% of ME fans will buy anything that’s branded BioWare and Mass Effect. Me included.

Besides, it’s just incomprehensible that after all those years of more or less consistent writing, BioWare would spurt out such nonsense in the form of ME3′s ending.

For some time… I’ll hold the line. Hoping.


On March 20, 2012 at 11:23 pm

excellent article. like almost everyone else who has finished the game, i found myself extremely disappointed at the ending. I’ve been searching for answers ever since. This in itself is pretty telling of how amazing the Mass Effect series is, if it wasn’t so great – i wouldn’t care so much. At this point i would accept anything from Bioware to explain the ending, paid DLC would set a horrible precedent – but i would buy it. Even if the producers came out and said “nope, what you got is all there is” – i would accept that. I wouldn’t be happy about it, i mean they essentially killed the Mass Effect universe for the future by destroying the relays, but at least it would be an answer. At the moment though, there are no definitive answers and that is doing my head in. I’m going to replay the last level and choose the destroy option (initially i chose synthesis as ‘my’ Sheppard would never doom the Geth or EDI) – just in case there is DLC.


On March 21, 2012 at 12:34 am

Well, if Bioware has done anything to show it’s one for crazy stunts, I think the Space Edition of ME3 is a good indicator.

The Indoc theory is pretty cool, but I honestly don’t have a problem with the canon ending. People are bashing it and demanding refunds for ME3 due to it’s ending. All sort of crazy stuff is going down. I really like the Indoc Theory just because of the mindedness that comes from it all, but if this was the real ending to ME3, then I’d be satisfied. Either my Shepard gave his life for the galaxy and his friends and loved ones like he had been doing up until that point, or he blasted the Reapers to hell and is currently awaiting his galaxy-wide “Commander Shepard Is ing Awesome” parade.

Oh, and a shiny medal.


On March 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The only problem with this theory is I’ve seen lots of writers (notably Lost is up there) say their fans connected dots they hadn’t even thought of and came up with something that made much more sense. If it was a book written by one person it would be plausible, but consider how many people were involved in creating all the different factors you have to include to accept this theory. Also remember the ending of Gears of War 1, when you are randomly on a train because Epic Games cut out the part that explains why you are on a train and forgot to replace it.


On March 21, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Best ending to a game ever. What other game can you think of has created this kind of S#$t storm and speculation. Just beat the game, which was amazing, and now spending many more hours of my time thinking about the possibility of indoctrination. Like people are saying either this is the most epic game ending ever or they messed up. Either way Bioware needs to capitalize on this because, well they dont really have a choice. I will gladly shell out $5-10 to get a good DLC that proves the theory right, or they could release it for free and make everyone happy and probably sell another million copys of the new ME game they will release because the show of good faith to the fans


On March 22, 2012 at 6:44 am

To be honest, I have aproblem with the indoctrination theory. My point is that it must have happened between “Priority Thessia” and the ending. Reason is that the Prothean VI on Thessia can identify indoctrinated persons and doesn’t react to Shephard, but reacts to Kai-Leng. So all the dreams and the boy on earth can’t be part of the indoctrinational illusions.


On March 22, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Innocent bystander who has never played the game, but has been sucked into the concept.

Assume the indoctrination theory is correct. At what point in the series does it make sense for Shepard to wake up under a pile of earth rubble? From reading, quite possibly the end of ME2 (please correct if wrong.) So, how can Bioware make a Running Man/Matrix/Dallas “It was all a dream” palatable?

Available April 1st for download, the Real Mass Effect 3. Not just continuing DLC, not something Bioware could have slapped together, but another whole game, available for free or a pittance. Best April Fool’s ever.


On March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Pardon, not Running Man, Total Recall


On March 23, 2012 at 8:43 am

Even if the Indoctrination Theory was true, the best outcome of it — having over 4k ems and choosing destroy — has Shepard waking up at either the ruins of the Citadel, or at London by the beam. We aren’t sure if beating indoctrination actually somehow activated the crucible remotely, we have to fill in the blanks ourselves, much like the endings shown as is without indoctrination in mind. So, Shepard wakes up, and still has to do.

That’s the equivalent of rolling the credits when Sam and Frodo reach the edge of the Mount Doom crater. Or having the Matrix just abruptly end when Neo starts seeing the world as code.

Therefore, indoctrination theory or not, the ending STILL sucks, and STILL isn’t what Bioware promised it would be. If they didn’t spend a year on marketing making promises and claiming that the ending would be varied and distinct and be affected by our choices and be conclusive and not leave us with more questions than answers, than they could get away with screaming “artistic integrity” and “this is our game, we end it the way we want to.” This is fraud, basically, because the covers on the boxes and the marketing campaign promise exactly what the product isn’t.

Actually having them make the decision to sell a Prothean character — a character that provides so much backstory to the world’s lore and actually manages to get Liara pissed – as a separate product, and then claim that the Prothean isn’t integral to the game and that the game is complete without him reveals the amount of greed they have. It really makes you wonder if they intentionally tried to “indoctrinate” the fans and release a vague plot hole ridden ending that could mean anything to anyone, so they can release and SELL a more conclusive ending later.

It could be a plot hole ridden mess of a set of 3 endings that aren’t really different visually, or it could all be indoctrination, were nothing was conclusively shown and everything was implied and when you “beat” indoctrination, you’re not even sure if you’ve beaten the reapers already or there’s still stuff to do. That’s what we have. However you twist it, it’s still crap.


On March 23, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Here’s my theory:
In the beginning invasion of earth, you see the little boy in the vent, but after the scene, if you go back, you see there is no exit and you would have probably noticed him running away. And during that coversation, he says nothing can help. My point is, this kid looks an awful lot like the catalyst…is he saying that you should give up and not try because there is truly no point (which there kind of isn’t from the end of the game…everyone kinda dies :P ) and so in the last dream, you hear whispers of people, almost like your in a trance and your hanging onto those words. And by the “perfect” ending where Shepard breathes, its like he’s out of the trance.

Again, my main point is that the kid looks like the catalyst, and it was almost like your the only one who could see him.

Another thought of mine is joker flying through space. He left Shepard there! So unless he was dead before and joker knew that, there was no fleet and te reapers bleeding the galaxy to crap, and he was trying to escape the blast. He would never leave Shepard, even on the impossible missions where Shepard barely spoke to joker…he just waited, not knowing until Shepard called him back. So when joker and your two Conrad’s step off( and where did the other guys go?? Die???), its a new beginning and joker is the old dude speaking…unless that’s possibly the un-indoctrinated Shepard….and if you saved sagely(cause the kid wasn’t blue and we don’t know what color the quarians are…

So one last time, kid is catalyst, warning Shepard maybe…Shepard isn’t himself…joker leaves him…thank you for reading this :) (btw..this is my first post ever :D )


On March 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm

lol, bioware planned this all along.. why else would you be returned to the map after the ending… all the relevant side quests and everything for me are done theres nothing to do.. its so you can replay their “new” ending when it comes out on dlc… so much bs.

I wanted to see a better earth battle too… like ing legions of krogan swarming a brute and cool like that but noooo


On March 24, 2012 at 6:33 am

I’ve read a number of articles on this site and I’ve been continually impressed with the high quality of writing and analysis that I’ve seen. That said, I’m a little bit surprised that this article even exists. The indoctrination “theory” is not a valid explanation of anything in the ending of the game but merely an excellent example of cognitive dissonance of the sort you see on shows like “UFO Hunters” and “Monster Quest”. It deserves no real attention from Game Front’s writers (or anyone, really).

The ending of Mass Effect 3 makes no obvious sense and people are understandably uncomfortable with that; I know I was. Cognitive dissonance kicks in to allow people to concoct an explanation that allows them to make sense solely to feel less discomfort. Lifeboat syndrome is a great example of this.

Unfortunately, cognitive dissonance also causes people to construct unsound arguments, often logically invalid ones (but not necessarily so because a logically valid argument can still be an unsound one if the premises are false). Because the ending of Mass Effect 3 makes no real sense and, more importantly, because people insist to themselves that it MUST makes sense in order to feel comfortable, they’ve engaged in a very common logical fallacy, namely this one:

“Often people will choose the assumptions that best fit the conclusion they prefer. In fact, psychological experiments show that most people start with conclusions they desire, then reverse engineer arguments to support them – a process called rationalization.”

See how that works? People prefer an ending that makes sense so they start with that as an assumption, i.e. the ending makes sense. Then they reverse engineer the indoctrination “theory” to support the conclusion that the ending makes sense. Often, they’ve engaged in other logical fallacies in support of their rationalization, like assuming of facts not in evidence, confusing association with causation, begging the question, and the like.

It’s a bit sad, really, because it shows just how much people are emotionally invested in the series and how badly Bioware screwed up with their lazy, pretentious writing. I’m highly disappointed with the way that the series ended, too, but I’m not going to pretend that it makes sense just to feel better.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm


You’re entitled to your opinion and you might be right about some players rationalizing, but the potential false premise they start with isn’t “the ending must make sense” but “the writers of Mass Effect would have written an ending that makes sense.” That might not be the case, but there’s quite a bit of evidence suggesting that the writing team would have created an ending that worked with the fiction. So, upon seeing one that many players feels like doesn’t make sense, their left confused. We’ve got a couple hundred hours of content that suggests the writers know what they’re doing, so the premise that the ending ought to make sense, given the quality of the rest of the story, isn’t such a crazy one.

Of course, it could be false. But given the amount of work done by members of the community, we figured it was worth analyzing or at least sharing with others. The fact right now is that we just don’t have enough information about what BioWare planned — or didn’t — and what it might still be planning — or not.


On March 26, 2012 at 1:12 am

Lots of people talk about how they said that the indoctrination ending would be too complicated with the dialogue choices. Perhaps this is why they completely dropped the dialogue choices at the end of the game and it is instead streamlined for you.


On March 26, 2012 at 11:43 am

I have two points to make. One in favor and one against IT. Both are VERY convincing.

1) If Sheppard was indocrinated, Vendetta (the Prothean VI) would’ve found out on Thessia.

2) If Sheppard wasn’t indocrinated, and the endings are real, WTF my armor suddenly changed from Blood Dragon Armor to the N7 default one at the “limping sequence”?


On March 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

The fact that making The Illusive Man commit suicide grants you 1000 EMS supports the indoctrination theory. Otherwise, why would TIM “beg” for Shepard’s acceptance and try to prove a point, instead of simply disposing of Shep and Anderson while obviously having the upper hand?


On March 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I think the IT is the most likely “reality” (apologies for the awesomely bad pun). There’s simply too much evidence to support it combined with my belief that Bioware writers, and specifically ME writers, don’t suck. In fact they are amazingly good through 2.95 ME games. The last .05 obviously being the “horrible if true” ending of ME3. While most of the evidence pointing at IT has been discussed expertly by many in this and other sites, I wanted to point out two things. 1) One other thing that supports that this isn’t the “true” end of ME3 that hasn’t been discussed is the lack of any kind of boss fight at the end. At the end of ME1 you had Saren, and of course ME2 you had the human reaper. What kind of boss fight was at the end of ME3? No Illusive man, no Harbinger. All there was was about 20-30 minutes of killing the same bad guys we’ve been killing the whole game. And then some discussion options. So I think this points to the indoctrination theory and that Bioware is planning on releasing the rest of the game in a few weeks (after we’ve all been indoctrinated ourselves) where we wake up, maybe get pulled from the rubble by our squadmates, if not dead, and regroup to face off against Harbinger for the ultimate fate of the galaxy. Or something. With an epilogue showing how our choices affect the universe after the reapers are defeated for God’s sake.
2) Just a quick something to point out at the ONE piece of evidence that people use to counter the IT. The Prothean VI doesn’t say you’re indoctrinated. But I would point out that he also said that his safety protocols had been disabled so that it would answer TIMs questions. Which probably means that TIM disabled his indoctrination detector, or at least made it so it didn’t matter (in which case Victory simply wouldn’t point it out because it didn’t matter). Ok that’s my two cents. Let’s all pray for a real ending (and that it’s free). This series is far too amazing to be ruined by something like this horrible, plot-hole infested, nonsensical ending. Oh, and a personal hope is that they render Tali’s face in a DLC, with maybe some mission to help rebuild her home planet. Because come on, A STOCK PHOTO PICTURE? REALLY?!!?!!?!!!! Y U CANT RENDER MOST IMPORTANT FACE IN GAME WHEN YOU RENDER FACES OF RANDOM PEOPLE IN CITADEL!!! RAGE RAGE!!!!!! Ok, now I’m done :)

Jacky C

On March 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I’m another person who now goes to this site every day instead of IGN because of this article, and the other one about why fans are disappointed. This is the most interesting thing I have ever read about anything video games related. If it is true, it is the most meta moment in any media …….. ever.

And if they make some clams on the side with DLC downloads and publicity good on them, I would have paid 1k dollars to experience this trilogy, extra 10 dollars to have my mind blown is not a big deal to me.

Respect to Phil and Ross.


On March 27, 2012 at 11:31 am

One more thing: The song playing during the credits is titled “Das Malefitz”, an extremely rare German expression for “Renegade action”. I’m sure, this, as everything else, is mere coincidence… :-)


On April 3, 2012 at 3:12 am

Makes perfect sense except for the slightly annoying fact that the Catalst/GodChild says the indocturnated can’t control the reapers because they themselves are controlled. The article above doesn’t mention that annoying little quote.
It’s a nice theory and all but unfortunately the game itself discredits it.

Sometimes games are just released with crappy endings!


On April 9, 2012 at 2:21 am

Bioware pulled a Kojima or this is sneaky way to put out DLC….but since an extended will be coming out we shall see.


On April 10, 2012 at 5:48 am

In me 2 ending destroy (collector base) is paragon ending with red explosion and save (kinda control) is renegade ending with blue explosion .Could this be a hint and also Normandy outrunning the wave of explosion is similar.


On April 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm

The Outer Limits episode referenced in this analysis is:

Phil Hornshaw

On April 12, 2012 at 7:36 am


Hey, thanks for running that down! That would have been a good idea for me to go get. Sorry, everyone — good thing Steve was on the ball.


On April 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

No problem! It’s actually my favorite Outer Limits episode from the more modern series. Took me a while to figure out which episode it was (my google-fu was poor last night)


On April 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Guys, could it be that ME3 isn’t actually the final chapter in the mass effect series, despite what may have been said beforehand? Perhaps there will be a ME4. Afterall I got the feeling this was kind of foreshadowed in the scene with the grandpa and the kid. Remember what Stargazer says when the child says he wants to hear more about ‘the Shepard’: “Okay, maybe one more story…” ME4 would then pick up where it last left off – Shepard regaining consciousness in a pile of rubble on Earth. Although how he will complete his mission I have no idea. And for players who have chosen the blue or green ending Shepard cannot go on. Can he? But it’s the last hope I have for the ultimate ending we deserve. Not the bull that we got with the brat. I find it hard to believe they thought this ending was acceptable and even harder to believe they were proud of it.


On April 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I disagree with the fact that if the Indoctrination Theory happened to be true it would be a wonderful new idea, a “staggering feat of gaming” and “ideas taken to a level never even attempted before”.

Metal Gear 2 tried to pull the EXACT same thing several years ago. When people realized the false advertising of the game (sound familiar?), all that about the marketing campaign only showing Snake while at the end the majority of the game was protagonized by Raiden, a theory showed up about all that being a massive fourth-wall breaking meta message (again, sound familiar?) about the plot of the game, which involved information control, populace gullibility and denial.

Of course, it being true or not, there’s no denying it caused a negative impact on gamers. Not as big as this one, because MGS2 wasn’t supposed to be the end of the franchise, or even of Snake’s story, but the backlash was huge, and it would have been much bigger were the internet what it is now. And they didn’t try to pull any DLC crap either, which helped.


On April 22, 2012 at 11:59 am

Agree with the basic points here. Either
1) The ending sucks, or
2) The indoctrination scene is pure genius, but the game is incomplete.

Can you imagine the awesomeness that could have been, if instead of just 5 seconds of Shepherd in rubble if you max out your readiness score, you got an additional 50 minutes of gameplay… that because of your choice to resist the Reaper’s lies and your massive military power, the Reapers could not hold control over you and you wake up to the “true” finish of the game?

I’ll grant that Bioware can try to achieve this coolness through DLC, but it would have been better in the actual game.


On April 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I believe that the Final Choices are an attempt at Indoctrination, but I do not believe that they are only in Shepard’s mind. I believe that they are actually happening, but that the offering of the other choices are lures to further the Catalyst’s goals. Only the choice of destruction makes sense – why trust the solutions offered by the very thing that has been serving the galaxy a steaming pile of crap for the last 15 million years? We’ve been going through three games of “kill the Reapers”, so follow through!

Yes, through Control and Synthesis there would be a peace, but it would be a hollow one; how long would control really last? Could you really trust a giant flying gun that destroyed your planet after it turns blue, says “My bad”, and lifts off? It might last for centuries, but could you guarantee it could last forever? Even if it did actually work, the end result would likely be Synthesis anyway.

As for synthesis, think of the repercussions. You have just made all races, all people part synthetic, with no choice for themselves including the races that have not attained space travel elsewhere in the galaxy! You have essentially indoctrinated the entire galaxy.

With Destruction, you genocide the geth and EDI, but all other races, including the ones that we don’t even know exist, are free to choose their own fate. Plus the argument that synthetics will always try to destroy their creators was proved false by the geth and EDI. They won’t be around to show that anymore, but you knew going into it there would be a hard decision to make.

Also, the destruction of the Citadel and the Mass Relays is absolutely essential to the success of final victory. The Citadel was awesome. It was probably the coolest place in the entire game – which is why it works so well as a lure. The technologies present there shape the progression of civilization towards a path controllable by the Reapers and, ultimately, the Catalyst. The Mass Relays are also a part of this control mechanism. By purging the galaxy of all of the Catalyst’s technology, life will be free of its influence.

As for the future of space travel, the Protheans reverse-engineered a mass relay 50,000 years ago. It could be done again. Even though the basic principles would be the same as the tech made by the Catalyst, it is probably safe to say that even the Catalyst did not actually invent the idea of a Mass Relay. He just created the network that is currently in place, a network that it could manipulate through the Citadel and the Reapers.

So, that’s my view of it. Control would likely fail after a century or two, and the cycles either continue, or the control would lead to Synthesis. Synthesis seems to be the ultimate goal of the Catalyst’s cycles, meaning it should probably be the opposite goal that you have. Destruction frees you from ever worrying about the Reapers again, frees you from the control of the Catalyst, and allows you to be master of your own fate. The choices are offered because it needs you to complete its goals. And I hold that the outcomes are reality, not “in your head”.

Think about this – there was a special panel for Control, and Synthesis was central to the room. Destruction did not have a magic red button – you had to shoot a tank. Destruction was not designed by the Catalyst.


On May 2, 2012 at 9:51 am

BioWare lied about the indoctrination… They are building the suspense, from the beginning of the game with the little boy to the end with Anderson and Illusive Man. Anderson made it clear you have become indoctrinated. You yourself have to be aware The Reapers want you trick you into controlling them but that is impossible!!! YOU CANNOT CONTROL SOMETHING THAT IS CONTROLLING YOU. The catalysis is lying to everyone!!! Everyone made Shepard fall…. Everyone watch this video EVEN ANGRY JOE BELIEVES THE INDOCTRINATION THEORY!!


On May 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

What happened in the Citadel was all in Shepard’s head!!! It is indoctrination in process!!!

Mark Martellini

On May 6, 2012 at 8:01 am

I found another strange fact in shepard’s bleeding after he killed the illusive man.
When the illusive man controlled shepard to shoot anderson, he shot anderson in his stomach, then after you kill the illusive man, after anderson dies :,(, shepard bleeds on the stomach. maybe anderson was shepard’s mind (destroy the reapers), an hallucination. tell me if i’m wrong

Mark Martellini

On May 6, 2012 at 8:02 am

I found another strange fact in shepard’s bleeding after he killed the illusive man.
When the illusive man controlled shepard to shoot anderson, he shot anderson in his stomach, then after you kill the illusive man, after anderson dies :,(, shepard bleeds on the stomach. maybe anderson was shepard’s mind (destroy the reapers), an hallucination.


On May 7, 2012 at 10:24 am

I love this theory! It’s a HUGE gamble if this was a “fake” ending and we have to pay for DLC to truly “finish” the game. I would in a heartbeat, especially if it were something as well crafted as this theory. The problem being, we’ve waited too long for that “real” ending now, haven’t we? A lot of gamers blow through a game and shelf it (trade it in?), MAYBE come back and revisit it later on a rainy day.

Not everyone is a die-hard fan. Not everyone bought all the toys. So at this point, isn’t it too late to give us the “real/true” ending.

Second, what if you didn’t pick the “right” ending? How would that affect your true “endgame”? Wouldn’t you have been defeated in that case and game over?

Hell, we didn’t stay dead the first time the Reapers/Collectors killed us, why should we stay dead this time? :)


On May 12, 2012 at 2:51 am

I have one problem with a part of the theory, could you explain this in more detail, or tell me why i’m wrong?

It has to do with the colour codes where you claim that Anderson=Paragon, his action=Renegade because it’s against what the reapers want etc.

My question is: Why isn’t it possible that: Destruction featured by Anderson since he says it in the mass effect series that we have to destroy the Reapers, it’s the only option. Controll featured by the IM since he says over and over you have to controll them and Synthesis featured by no one because nobody thought of that option. Destruction is red because in the end Synthetics will kill all organics ‘thus killing the entire galaxy”. Controll is blue because It allows all live forms to continue to exist, so you “save” the entire Galaxy. Synthesis is green. Synthesis is green because all live will be destroyed, but something new will be created that will remain in peace forever, thus “kinda saving the galaxy but at a great sacrifice”. I don’t know why they picked green though and not just any colour.

Shepard lives with the destruction clip since the kid explains that he WILL die if he chooses the controll option, and with Synthesis he is absorbed and send out to be merged with the synthetics to become something that is clearly not Shepard.
SO that is the reason why he can survive if you choose the destruction option. Because the other 2 WILL definatly kill him


On May 12, 2012 at 2:55 am

Oh and also, the reason why the ship survives in al 3 options is that it avoids the red, Blue, green rays. As you can see a hole is being formed through the green energy and it passes through that hole.

Also any plot holes get explained by the super lame ending that it’s just a child’s story they are telling and that the detailes have been lost throughout the ages.

Boycott OPM

On May 21, 2012 at 5:11 am

The official Boycott OPM (UK) Facebook page is now online. This action stems directly from their agenda regarding Mass Effect 3. These idiots even tried to claim it was homophobia aimed at the romances.


On May 25, 2012 at 11:22 am

I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite theory on the extranet


On June 24, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Foolishness. Shepard is NOT indoctrinated and there clear is proof in game. People just ignore it, all the while finding circumstantial evidence for this theory. (Not that I blame them for trying to rationalize themselves into some closure, but there is plenty of factual storyline that is ignored in forming this theory).

The proof… the prothean VI talks to shepard after sensing he is NOT indoctrinated. Then when Cerberus shows up, it detects an “indoctrinated presence” and shuts down. Even after it is hacked by cerberus it comments that it can detect that shepard is trying to recapture it from indoctrinated presence.

If you paid attention, you would know that illusive man had himself surgically upgraded with his own experimental powers. HE causes anderson and shepard to be under his control – not a reaper’s. The fact that the illusive man walks away from the control panel if shepard gets shot is not proof that shepard is hallucinating. This is clearly stated – illusive man is indoctrinated and the reapers don’t want him to activate the panel. So even though the illusive man wants to, he CANNOT go activate it. I mean i could go on, but the bottom line – Bioware just F’d the ending up. There is no closure.

The whole rest of the story makes sense. There is an endless battle between organics and synthetics. At some point millions of years ago, synthetics were created and rebelled against their creators. They won and the reapers were born… In order to preserve themselves they periodically return to harvest/destroy all organic life before it becomes too advanced to threaten them. This cycle goes on for millions of years. This time, however shepard is a badass and the humans are just barely able to turn the tide on the reapers. Shepard meets the catalyst, who is synthetic and (as a last effort of self preservation) tries to manipulate shepard out of choosing to destroy the reapers.

You make a choice – synthesis, destroy the reapers or control them – and bioware drops the ball and basically everyone dies regardless of what you choose. You don’t get to control the reapers, all the mass relays explode – destroying every system in the process. Then somehow Normandy magically crash lands and you’re crew is on an unknown planet.


On June 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm

The indoctrination theory invalidates itself. It is based on the fact that shepard never left earth to go to the citadel, and all events in the citadel happen as illusions placed by indoctrination. If that’s the case, then even if shepard resists and selects the “destroy” option to win the war in his mind – It was only an illusion – and the ending is completely meaningless. There is still ongoing physical war with the reapers. Everything in the last 3 games becomes meaningless. There is no closure, unless we assume war is lost while shepard lays on the ground hallucinating, and the cycle continues. Maybe this is what Bioware meant for us to assume, but I doubt it.

Plus there is still the question of WHY? This theory puts up evidence that “a broken shepard is of no use to the reapers” (if he fails to resist indoctrination) in which case they just kill him. Why would the reapers give a damn if shepard is indoctrinated or if they kill him? They don’t need him for anything. They’ve been doing this for millions of years and either way he’s out of the picture and reapers win the war. Why spend the effort on controlling him and not just roast him while he lays on the ground?

Sorry it just isn’t logical or practical.

A person who finished ME3 just hours ago.

On June 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I was pleased with the ending I chose (Synthesis), mainly due to the implications I got from the data and information I had been provided with up to that point: there would be peace, at the cost of the relays and Shepard (Not sure if it also included all synthetic life). I did not want to destroy, since the Star Child’s wording made the repercussions unclear: I thought that he meant that the Reapers would come again, essentially rendering the choice pointless.

I know, foolish me for not being good at reading and/or listening comprehension and letting Shepard be indoctrinated.

I also didn’t choose Control, for I did not know what Shepard would actually do with all that new-found power; would she abuse it (since I had been playing mainly Renegade up to that point), would she become the most benevolent thing in existence, bringing prosperity, peace and cute puppies wherever she would roam or would I ACTUALLY GET TO CHOOSE?

This ambiguity made me choose Synthesis.

I am not trying to debunk the Indoctrination Theory, I merely want a thing that has been bugging me clarified in a meaningful way. The thing will be explained shortly.

I agree with the implications of the theory: were it true, BioWare would have massive writer chops which they displayed in a feat never before thought of. I also won’t deny its plausibility, since all the evidence (except for a few points; I won’t bother mentioning them here, since what I deem as fallible evidence is not that important) provided seems to point to the fact that our dear Shepard was, after all, under Reaper influence.

Now, as for the thing that bugs me, how are some of the Indoctrination Theory supporters so adamant in their belief that the person in the rubble was indeed Shepard? It is not (according to my belief) stated anywhere that the person is Shepard, and the N7 dogtags are not definite proof of Shepardness. After all, they only say “N7″ and nothing more. Besides, when was Shepard issued the dogtags? In ME1? If that was the case, why didn’t we see them on her in ME2? Or in ME3, prior to that point? Was it because Shepard died in ME2? If THAT was it, when did she receive them back? When Anderson tossed a set of dogtags to her in the beginning of ME3? If they were the same pair of dogtags, how did they survive the death of Shepard? If they weren’t, when was a new pair issued for Shepard? Did they manufacture a new set when they learned that she had allied herself with Cerberus? Or was Anderson’s Omni-Tool some kind of a dogtag machine?

I do not know, and I have not noticed that anybody else would, either. Yes, maybe this isn’t relevant to the theory itself. Yes, I may have missed something somewhere that explains this perfectly. Yes, I give too many s about this.

But damnit, the people behind this theory should be able to account for that piece of evidence: why is that poor N7 bastard on the ground Shepard? Were I to play a Perfect Destruction ending, I am pretty sure the N7 soldier wouldn’t be wearing the same armour my Shepard was wearing before she got blasted by the Reaper (which is assumed Harbinger, which baffles me; how has that been inferred?).

If there’s solid proof backing the N7 soldier’s Shepardness, then there is, and I appreciate anyone who steps up with that proof. This might be the wrong place to share this, but I do not care; it’s more important for me to voice this and get it off my chest.

If there is no proof, then there is not, and the Indoctrination Theory has yet another hole in it. This hole is not the largest, since Shepard’s indoctrination being merely speculation is far bigger a hole than an unidentified body in rubble somewhere.

I loved the game, and I love the theory. I respect people’s opinions and desire and will to speculate about the ending, but before we get BioWare’s official, definitive stance on what really happened (be it in the form of a press release or DLC [which I wouldn't object to, in this rare case]), speculation will still remain speculation, and Shepard’s indoctrination will still be a theory. No logic can change that; you (nor me) have no say on whether the endings were true or not. It is ultimately left up to the creators, whether we like it or not.

agency nanny

On June 27, 2012 at 1:13 am

It’s the first time when i’ve seen your site. I can see a lot of hard work has gone in to it. It’s really good.


On June 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Interesting theory, and I’d like to add something to it. In ME2 the Reapers tried to make a Human reaper only because of that Shepard drew their attention to the human race, as they were able to defeat a reaper in ME1. So Reapers must gave some value to Shepard, they could have kill him many times. Seriusly, if there was a danger of destruction of the whole race they could have shot the Citadel to pieces easily, but not in Sheps mind. : )
What they really needed was Shepards mind, the human mind to become stronger, because this far they had no improvement and only used up technology and genetics from other races, not adding to their psychic feats. If they would be able to consume that mind and create a new hivemind it would make the Reapers far stronger then before, they were close to destruction not like anytime before.
Just like the Citadell the Crucible is a Reaper design most likely made for this.
So what may have been really happened:

-Destruction: The Reapers were only able to get pieces of Shepards mint and after purely destroying any other race and make the cycle go on.

- Controll: Assimilating the mind of Shepard, but for real destructing anything else.

- Synth: Spreading the mind of an Indoctrinated Shepards throughout the Galaxy, gaining more and more of the intellect the organics had in this cycle, actually make organics believe this is okay, and make the Reapers achieve a “Flawless Victory”. Because everything proved to be an enemy is now a part of a hivemind with their original intellectual abilities, this was a problem for the Reapers before. WIth Shepard added it’s not anymore.

- The new ending: Complete destruction of everything improving only technically and genetically.
It worries me that the Crucible were intact at the end, most likely the next cycle will fullfill what Shepard failed to.

So there is no good ending, if we take the theory seriously, if Shepard was indoctrinated there is no way that the Reapers would have let him destroy them. So yes, in my Mass Effect the cycle continues always.


On June 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm

“It wasn’t just Shepard, a cartoon you control, who was indoctrinated — you were indoctrinated, forced to make the Reapers’ choices just as he was, whether you wanted to or not.”
That is not how indoctrination works. This is like me claiming that I indoctrinated a rock into falling by hurling it from a high cliff. Fiction is not pure imagination, it is entirely fair for the audience to assume that a storyteller is telling them things that matter in some way; and if it’s revealed to actually be nothing but a bunch of meaningless gibberish, it’s understood that the storyteller is the one who sucks. And even if you don’t believe that, surely you couldn’t believe that the storyteller is actually awesome for manipulating the audience into believing made-up details about a story that is ultimately made-up anyway.


On August 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

This comment, by Clinton, is a perfect example of people seeing what thye want to see:

First playing; when Shepard sees the kid; there is no exit in the vent where the kid is at; if you go back and look. Also Anderson snaps Shepard of what seems a trace.

If you can go back to the vent and look at it again then it must have been real, only the image of the child is a possible hallucination. But a vent in a wall must have another exit or continue on or otherwise it serves no purpose. The vent not having any further detail to it is an aspect of the game programming, an unnecessary detail, not a major plot device.
People that look to this these kinds of errors or lack of detail really are making things up to fit their view of the game. Its based on nothing.
I also read somewhere that the fact that you can’t attack the keeper in the citidel in the fnal scene is proof of something. It really is idiotic to base arguments on this kind of stuff.


On November 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm

i have come up with a fourth ending, while i was sitting here reading your analysis. You mentioned that Commander Shepard was in indoctrinated. that is why at the end of mass effect 3 the game goes all weird and different. You have the gun with unlimited ammo. Also as you mentioned the illusive man just quite literally shows up at the citadel. Also if you noticed Anderson is limping and seems to even have a few broken bones in his rib cage, but if you pay attention, he does not have one scratch, bruise, or even any blood, and even burn marks on him. I also noticed, when the hero Shepard is controlled by the reapers, he shoots Anderson, and i noticed that no blood shows up, or even a wound. Even when you the Illusive man no blood. I believe that Shepard was actually indoctrinated. It all seems that Shepard, through all the bad and good times, he finally was indoctrinated from the reapers in the end. As game players in the Mass Effect series we all know that we are the ones who choose how it is all going to play out.
When i was playing mass effect 3 around, wow, it was only last year i figured something out. After you leave the Asari home world, in frustration and anger, because you arrived to late before the illusive mans top assassin came in and completely screwed everything up. When i was done with mission i went to all the crew and talked to them, including liara about how i failed and it was not her fault that i failed, and comforted her in the difficult time. I went to Joker last, i had that argument with him about not opening an already open cut. I said this isn’t the time for Jokes Joker, people have just died, do you not understand this. He then got angry at me, and he discussed what happened to his family and the home world he grew up on and how the reapers had attached it. He said that he was making joke because jokes relieve you of stress, and he said to the commander, that you are completely stressed out, your body is under too much stress, and remember that Anderson told me to take care of you. I say this is probably when the indoctrinated commenced, when Shepard’s stressed out from the job and the war in mass effect, his immune system goes down to very low protection, so because of this Shepard is less immune to the reaper’s influence on him, also because he is part machine they probably found a way to control him there as well.

As i said i am going to tell you about the fourth ending, which in itself could be the beginning of mass effect 2. In mass effect 2 right off the bat the Normandy mark 1 is destroyed and along with Shepard, who seems to nearly burn up i reentry to that planets atmosphere. Later on in the game Legion the Geth with a thousand and some more minds of other geth. You have an interesting conversation with him when awakes and if i am correct after his loyalty mission or it might even be before hand. You ask him where did you get some of my armor, he replies i found it on the old machine a.k.a the reaper. You ask him why and he starts getting nervous and will not reply. So the reapers had Shepard for a short while, until Cerberus found the old machine and st up shop, And to their surprise found Commander Shepard. In the short time the reaper had Shepard, i think the reaper might of indoctrinated him, so it went off at a certain time. But this not the ending, hang in their for a bit longer and i will explain myself. Shepard, if you have the highest galaxy reediness you can get, and choose to destroy the reapers and the geth because they count as machine, and all other synthetics. You get a fifteen second scene of Shepard in rubble and burnt, and he takes a gasping breath because he is in pain and has just woken up and also because of smoke. I believe this is him waking up on the old machine in Mass effect 2. I think he was unconscious for maybe twenty-four hours and got a message,or a glimpse into the future from the reapers to let him know that it is hopeless to resist and he will die because of it, i believe they trying to demoralize him, because they are afraid of Shepard because they know he is a huge figure, who can rally the entire galaxy to stand by him. So they were trying to make it so he would not get the galaxy to work together, because if he does the reapers know they will lose the war, and it would of all been for nothing. Also if Shepard uses the crucible then he can either control the reapers which they do not want, because they think themselves higher than all other organics in the galaxy. Second is synthesis which lets organics and synthetics become one, which is indoctrination itself for the reapers because they want to make all organics extinct , third is destroy which destroys the reapers, but the ai guardian says that the reapers will come again, he is bluffing once the reapers are destroyed they can not come back again because those are literally the last of the reapers, well the reapers have never failed so if they fail now they will never come again. Now there is a fourth option which in itself is crab, when you on the crucible you can now choose a the: New Refusal Ending, you refuse to use the crucible which kills all organic life that was fighting with you, i just found the new ending on U tube, so check it out, i am not saying it is bad, but you wont here me trying that one. It is a hologram message of liara explaining what happened and giving the future advise to combat the reapers. So if you choose that you kill everyone you cared for and loved, it is not a good option. I hope you consider this as your fourth option for Mass Effect 3 Ending: Analyzing The Indoctrination Theory. I hope Phil Hornshaw and Ross Lincoln you guys will look over this and consider my theory as a reliable source, which you use for your knowledge of mass effect, if you two are interesting in talking to me you can write your emails to, I hope you two email me and add me in further discussion of mass effect, yours truly JFR. Also i thought your comments about the game make sense and i completely agree, with what you are stating.

Philip Deysher

On February 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Another good idea is why is it that whenever you beat the game you always go back to before the mission when you infiltrate the Cerberus base? I never understood that and this may explain why!

Zane Coppedge

On March 20, 2013 at 9:01 am

I think it is a possibility, perhaps instead of thinking of indoctrination as purely just mind control of organics with a high enough cognitive capability, perhaps indoctrination is a test in and of itself, the idea that the reapers were the solution to the endless cycle of creator/creation war between organics and AIs is the key, the conversation with the star child reveals more than we think is there. Perhaps they use indoctrination as a means to try and find a better way and if the organic they are indoctrinating is not capable of finding a better solution then they succumb to full reaper dominance. However Shepard is unique in that he is half organic and half technological moreso than any other creature in the universe. The Illusive man was part machine, but it was through reaper tech this is shown by his subtle exposure in his origin comic that was released, he is actually part husk. Shepard’s hallucination for the ending may have all been in his head, and by choosing synergy, or destruction, or control you are in fact deciding the fate of the rest of the galaxy that the leviathans and protheans could never have achieved and in fact most of every sentient being could not choose. The color scheme of those ending decisions alludes even more to the suggestive nature of indoctrination, considering the illusive man maintains most of his control through subtle indoctrination nudges rather than full on control, he was the second closest to achieving a proper solution. Just my theory.


On June 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

It’s interesting that you brought up the Prothean VI on Thessia but missed what actually happened there. As with all the other Prothean VI in the trilogy, it shuts down and protects itself in the presence of indoctrinated people. They are built specifically to detect indoctrination and not cooperate with those under reaper control. Yet they all work with Shepard just fine. I think the latest interaction he has with a prothean VI is right after the assault on Cerberus, so we know he’s still clean at that point, and the only possible time in the entire trilogy for Shepard to get indoctrinated is during combat on Earth. And if he got indoctrinated on Earth, why would they continue to resist him and try to kill him? All the way up to the very end, with the laser beam and the last few enemies trying to stop him even after the laser, the reapers offer Shepard nothing but resistance. Did Saren have to fight his way onto Sovereign? Nope. Did Illusive Man fight his way onto the Citadel? Nope. Shepard was clearly never in the reapers’ pocket. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but sometimes game endings just aren’t satisfying.


On June 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Oh, also, watch the ending again, where Shepard responds to the control option and says “So Illusive Man was right after all.”

Godboy: Yes, but he could never control us, because we already controlled him.

Control isn’t an option for the indoctrinated but is an option for Shepard.


On July 13, 2013 at 3:24 am

We just have to accept that there is no canon ending– it would be impossible to establish one with half the point of the game being variation in outcomes due to one’s actions. But anyway, I think the final three pronged path suddenly deviates from “good” and “evil” (thought not in such a black and white sense), and switches to “Order” and “Chaos”.

Controlling the reapers, be it through altruistic or malicious means, is imposing order upon the galaxy. You control it, you protect it, whatever, you’re doing it because “hey, I can’t trust the galaxy not to destroy itself once this is over. I’ve been picking up people’s for three whole games and everyone is incompetent so I need to babysit them”.

Destroying the reapers is to embrace galactic chaos, and not necessarily in a bad way. By destroying the reapers and the mass relays, you’re effectively eradicating what little order the galaxy had. You’re sending the galaxy into the dark ages but hey, the can rebuild and everyone is free to live as they see fit. Screw imposing your will on everyone else for all eternity and let the chaos of nature work as it was meant to.

The synthesis is a mix of both. I feel like by bridging the gap between organics and synthetics, as well as between individuals (which I assume is happening because hybrid organic synthetics would probably be able to network on a mental level.) You’re imposing a new way of existence on everyone, sure, but that new existence is steeped in enlightenment and understanding. Its not perfect, its far from it. But I feel that it gives the galaxy a new push that the destruction ending doesn’t give- in hope that war and suffering won’t continue as they had before, but also allows the races of the galaxy to continue to decide their own future to some extent, and leaving it up to chance.

I’m partial to synthesis as it seems like a moderate ending. I’ve friends that feel like imposing Order would be the best thing for the galaxy, and politically, those friends also support the benevolent autocrat ideology– an idea that states a benevolent dictator could impose righteous order and prosperity on his subjects and improve their standards of living. Its a matter of personal ideology in the end.

Each option is meant to seem radical– it forces you to really think about it. No matter what, things can’t stay as they were, and you can’t sit on the fence. What if suddenly you found yourself having to decide if humanity would unite under a single all powerful ruler and possibly prosper or suffer, or decide if all government would cease to exist and anarchy would reign for better or for worse? It wouldn’t be easy. So much could go right, so much could go wrong. For anyone with strong moral or ideological values, I think the ending of ME3 was brilliant, no matter how you interpret the reality of it. I’ve never had to think so hard on my actions in a video game before.

Keith Roano

On July 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Very good observation, though, now all DLC has arrived and the game is done. ME3 came 6 months after mass effect 2. This indicates, completely, that the game was rushed extremely hard! EA just wanted this game out, get there share of fortune Crome it, and be done. That said, I do believe that mass effect 3 could have been MUCH more than it came to be. Bioware had to cut corners almost everywhere from dialogue cutscenes, to player choice, and of course the ending. They had to scramble to put together an ending they could finish within the time frame given to them. Pleading for more time to EA didnt seem to help as they were already far behind schedule before the ending came to be. To me, this is all that upsets me that with this knowledge I know how much more amazing this game could have been, how great an ending it could have had, and how much more they could have set up for ME4.


On September 17, 2013 at 4:38 am

why do these vids not mention the other ending… when you shoot at the kid?


On December 8, 2013 at 4:21 am

Thank you for gathering such a wealth of knowledge on the subject.

I have recently had the pleasure of playing the entire series and while I am no great computer gamer I have read many books and the tale of Shepard I believe can be complete with the three games.

Mass effect 1 can be taken as read the interesting thing to note is the behaviour of Sarren with the council at the start of the game compare this to the behaviour of Shepard with the council after he ha saved them. He is quite defiant and determined.

In the opening of Mass effect 2 Shepard dies right next to a collector vessel, through the course of the game we find out happens to those who fall in the face of fighting the collectors and what they ultimately become i.e. a reaper.

Then we have mass effect 3 where go gallivanting around the galaxy “harvesting” support. If you harvested enough of this support then you unlock the green option where you get to fully merge with the machines, Alternately you can try to control them or you can rebel against them.

In the first game Sovrign says that Sheppard can never truly comprehend what it means to be a reaper that each reaper is a nation united.

So this is my version of the tale. Sheppard fights the reapers and is indoctrinated. He is killed and harvested by them in 2 and in 3 he harvests the galaxy and gathers enough support to rebel against the reaper he has become a part of and at the end he gets to choose weather to destroy it and regainhis humanity,


On January 2, 2014 at 9:41 am

maybe its just Shepard’s dream(nightmare)
After the ending of ME3 shepard wakes up in ME1 (Normandy SR1) screaming in agony then Anderson shows up:
Anderson: Ah commander you finaly woke up.
Then Nihlus appears.
Nihlus: Whats with all the screaming?
Shepard: You (pointing Nihlus with a finger) Saren… he… he will kill you… on Eden Prime.
Nihlus: …??
Anderson: Shepard from where do you know that we are going to Eden Prime? Never mind we are going there to retreve a Prothean Beacon.
Shepard: Bacon or Beacon?
Anderson: Beacon.
Sherard: Nooooooooooooooooooooo!!!


On February 9, 2014 at 12:33 am

Everyone keeps bringing up that your crew that was with you on the ground is “suddenly and magically on the normandy after the reaper blast.”… in my play through of ME3, it showed a cutscene where all of my squad mates were injured by the blast and then evacuated by shuttle to be picked up by the normandy. did no one else get this scene cut? because that provides a perfect explanation for them being board the normandy.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 9, 2014 at 12:36 am


The scene you’re referring to actually was not in the original cut of the ending of Mass Effect 3 — it was added in the Extended Cut free DLC pack about three months later, after players complained about it and a lot of other plot holes. The Indoctrination Theory was based on the original ending before it was expanded with additional material in the Extended Cut (and to a degree, the Leviathan DLC). So no, at the time this article was written and the theory was being discussed, nobody had that scene.


On February 9, 2014 at 2:28 am

Not to mention Mike, it wasn’t a ‘perfect explanation’ in the slightest. It actually broke the laws of physics on several levels, not least of which in that it somehow transported Joker several thousand miles in under five seconds. Plus, it made Shepard look like an arrogant in thinking his crew deserved preferential treatment over the several dozen if not hundreds of other endangered and wounded troops on the descent to the citadel. It was a pathetically rushed job by BioWare so that they could do the least amount of work possible in explaining away the myriad of plotholes they created in a short time frame.


On March 18, 2014 at 2:35 am

The great ending of mass effect 3 even it’s overall the great from starting to ending and the style of commander shepard is too awesome with N7 logo.


On March 18, 2014 at 4:29 am

The problem with analysing a theory like this is that it is basically a pissing contest between two complete guesses. The fact is that two years later we still don’t have a clue what Bioware was intending with this, and can only come up with a half-coherent explanation through subjective interpretations that often do not connect with each other or do not have enough established canon behind them to make them legitimate. Many of them, sadly, just come across as using the theory as a catch-all excuse for anything that isn’t obvious.

The only potentially workable details that could lead to an indoctrination premise are the sour notes and oily shadows that Shepard experiences and were mentioned by the Rachni Queen, the bodies on the ground and on the floor of the Citadel that look like Ashley and Kaiden models from ME1, the fact that Anderson’s bullet wound appears to transfer to Shepard’s body after he dies, the fact that the catalyst takes the form of the child Shepard saw die that as far as we know nobody else close to him had any idea even existed let alone meant so much to him, and the fact that Shepard’s eyes look the same as an indoctrinated person if he chooses control or synthesis but look normal if he chooses destroy. These are all really interesting and clearly deliberate things that don’t prove indoctrination to be true, but do prove that elements of the ending took place in Shepard’s mind. They’re also pre-established within the game’s lore, either as being directly linked to indoctrination or as being directly linked to Shepard’s story and therefore his mindset.

The rest? All guesses. Hmm, the decision chamber uses similar assets to the approach to the beam? Yup, must be indoctrination. No other explanation like, you know, limited programming time for what we know was a rushed, second-choice ending. Oh wow, the gun changes and has unlimited ammo? Indoctrination, definitely, must be. Hey, Anderson and the Illusive Man are there and it doesn’t make sense. Well, that’s ok, it’s just indoctrination obviously. Huh, Shepard has a vision where Anderson is the red choice and the Illusive Man is the blue one. Does Shepard even associate red with renegade and blue with paragon? I thought that was just a way for the player to make that connection, there’s nothing to suggest Shepard himself is aware of what they me-psych! Indoctrination! Never mind that contrivance, plot holes, design mistakes and repeat use of graphic assets are all present many times in the rest of the series (especially the second and third games, aka the ones forced out the door on a tight deadline by EA), or that we know full-well that the ending was written independently from the rest of the story meaning any attempts to call it a natural result of Mass Effect are futile. For many, the idea that some or all of this god-awful climax may not actually have been happening is just too tempting and too convenient for them to ignore, even if it means finding ‘clues’ that just aren’t there.

And besides which, the fundamental reason why fans were so upset to begin with – aka lack of closure and lack of meaningful choices – are not in any way salvaged by the indoctrination premise. You’re still given no information on what happens next besides Shepard waking up in some rubble somewhere if he chooses destroy with a high-enough EMS rating (by the way, what would EMS have to do with whether or not he wakes up if he’s making the choice that saves him anyway? Uh-oh…), and in fact you’re told even less if the IT is true than if it isn’t – instead of the story ending with some dumbass cutscene where your crew lands on a planet somewhere and Buzz Aldrin talks to a kid, the story apparently just ends with Shepard getting hit by a reaper lazer. Brilliant storytelling, there. And of course, that also means your choices actually mean even less than if the IT isn’t true, since instead of making one of three arbitrary choices about the fate of the galaxy, you’re just making one of three arbitrary choices as to whether you happen to be indoctrinated or not – and two of those choices supposedly lead to the same thing anyway, plus the choice that saves you apparently only works if you gathered enough artefacts for strangers on the Citadel and played multiplayer for long enough. Even with the extended cut installed, the IT still applies in the minds of those who support it, which means those stupid slideshows that apparently are showing you what happened to those you cared about are actually showing you nothing of the sort, since these are apparently all in Shepard’s head as well. Meaning that it’s wasting more of your time than it was before, and is giving you no additional information on, well, anything. Again, genius plot device there.

I admire the ingenuity and the dedication of those who studied the lore of the series and tried to apply it to the final sequence. If nothing else, it brought the community together and was a rare positive story that came from this whole thing. But the people who use this idea as a means to avoid having to actually analyse what happened, either within the game itself or within Bioware as a company during the development process, are wilfully blinding themselves to the reality of what goes on behind the scenes especially in a design team that experiences the pressures and changing circumstances of working for a mega-publisher like EA. If this was the same Bioware that created the first game, I could buy this potentially as a premise. But it isn’t the same Bioware, it doesn’t have the same personnel, and its affiliation with EA means it cannot have the same goals as it did before, even though most of the staff probably wish it did. It doesn’t matter how many vague quotes from Mike Gamble or nicely-edited Youtube videos you can show us, because every one of them will be met with a dozen or more counter-arguments or quotes that defeat the point of even trying to philosophise over this.

Sorry, guys. It’s a nice try and it’s led to some great creative works, but as an actual explanation for what Bioware intended it falls massively short.


On August 14, 2014 at 11:37 pm

“(This sequence was dropped because the gameplay mechanic proved too troublesome to implement alongside dialogue choices.)” That’s it. The remains of some ideas wasn’t removed as it should have been, the IT is just a feeling coming from the dust of some hundred ideas that were partially removed from the last seconds before release. It is bad programing or they’re just lazy – plot holes everywhere. It’s was a shame I think, but I still thinking that the player is indoctrinated directly, not the character. Either way is way too much credit for bioware.


On August 14, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Go google. The ultrasonic and infrasonic noises from the Indoctrination was detected by a program’s meter. Go google it, Major Coats was Indoctrinated – every character that is in the game shows signs of the ultra and infrasonic noises in the meter. I laugh out loud but gotta admit it, the ending is way more subtle than it seems.

On July 10, 2015 at 7:02 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:03 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:03 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:05 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:05 am

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On July 10, 2015 at 7:05 am

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On April 11, 2016 at 3:51 am