In Defense: A Rational Rebuttal of the Most Common Objections to Indoctrination Theory

Or, Come to the Dark Side (We Have Cookies).

Evidently, as a self-identified member of RetakeMassEffect / HoldTheLine / Etc (I’d be a card carrying member if they gave out membership cards) my choice to embrace this… particular analysis of Mass Effect 3’s ending is not a popular one.

I have heard it referred to as “The Dark Side” by at least one fellow Retaker, and listened to a number of common objections that have honestly gotten a bit tired, since I once used them myself. 

More to the point, though, hearing those objections applied to me mostly made me wonder: did you actually READ what I wrote? Or are you just using the same objections you use with every Indoctrination Theorist who crosses your path?

I’ve also had a few other objections raised in comments on the previous entry, and feel I should probably address them as well.

These are the most common arguments I have encountered, including some that I regret having used before settling on this interpretation.

But first, an interlude.

... again, TIM, for once, we agree.

Objection: The Final Hours App Refutes Indoctrination Theory.

This was a fairly recent objection raised. The basic premise of the argument is that Final Hours doesn’t mention Indoctrination Theory or the idea of Indoctrination (or seems to refute it in places), and that the notes concerning the ending essentially boil down to “LOTS OF SPECULATION FOR EVERYONE.” This, the argument goes, proves that the developers didn’t have anything like Indoctrination in mind when they wrote the ending. It essentially proves that the ending is just that terrible.

Measured response: No, actually, it doesn’t prove anything of the kind.


Look, I admit, I haven’t SEEN the app yet. I have read only what other people have said about it, and generally assume that they’re picking the parts that support their argument best. But where exactly does it say that ALL of the notes on the ending are in the app? How do we know that? Was the documentary maker privy to every meeting? Was every scrap of paper put through a scanner to be released into the wild?

I maintain the answer is no. The odds of them letting him see or know EVERYTHING about something like that are pretty slim, even if the ending hadn’t been a complete clusterfish,* or if it had been intended to be completely straightforward.

Would YOU? Would you, as a game developer, let someone witness EVERY secret? Or would you guard a few and hold them in reserve?

I suspect if the app contained EVERYTHING that went into the making of the game, it would be a lot bigger.

Objection: Indoctrination Theorists are Jerks.

Measured response: honestly, I agree with you on this one. It’s one of the reasons it took me so long to come around; a LOT of people who support IT are kind of dickish about it. However, it’s still an ad hominem argument, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Probably has something to do with believing that you understand something no one else is privy to, and wanting to feel superior about it.

This is a stupid attitude, and I’m doing my best to bridge the gap. All I’m doing is presenting my findings. Disagree with my evidence if you wish, but read it and address me on that level.

Wow. I never thought I'd agree with Kaidan, either. Well, except for that one time when he said Cerberus was bad...

Objection: Indoctrination Theory is a Conspiracy Theory.

Also known as the “multiplicity of evidence” argument, the “begging the question” argument, the “Oily Shadows Argument,” etc, etc… basically this says that a lot of evidence used to support IT is obscure and doesn’t really mean anything, and you can’t just add a bunch of facts into a pile and assume they make a good case. Therefore IT is bunk.

Measured response: I admit. I’ve read a LOT of breakdowns of IT, and more than a few of them get a bit overboard, bringing in dozens of obscure plot points, throwaway lines from the previous games, all that rot. I wrote my piece because I didn’t see the point of that. The only thing I refer to from ME1 is Saren (only because that’s a MAJOR plot point), and I could just as easily have stated that Synthesis is bad because that’s what the reapers do to people – just look at The Illusive Man. No, seriously, look at him in that scene. Look at that Cerberus trooper you see unmasked at the beginning. Look at the husks. That’s synthesis. Right there. Does it look like a good thing? No? Okay, then.

I built my case primarily on evidence found within the game itself, because I feel that it is the strongest evidence. The other details are just that: details. Some of it is probably wishful thinking, some of it MAY have been intended, but the stuff I chose is there because it’s obviously deliberate

Objection: BioWare Screwed Up And Should Just Admit It.

Also known as the, “why am I still a fan?” argument.

Good grief, we haven't even started this one...

I honestly don’t know how to touch this one. But I’ll give it a shot.

BioWare has said repeatedly regarding the Extended Cut: Clarity, Context, Closure, “Artistic Integrity,” “Artistic Vision,” BLAAAAAARGHIAMAGIANTSQUIDOFANGER and a bunch of other words that most believe would just lead to “throwing good writing after bad,” I believe is how the creator of Tasteful Understated Nerdrage put it. Or as another of my fellow Retakers put it, “that sounds like they’re just going to give us more of what we don’t want.”

If, however, Indoctrination Theory is true – or something LIKE Indoctrination, even if only PART of the theory was originally intended – clarity and closure could actually be legitimately good. And if it’s not true, why would you trust them to be able to fix it now? I mean, they thought the ending we have is good, apparently. So why would you trust them to fix it if they still believe that… and you reject the only interpretation that could POSSIBLY vindicate them? If you assume they screwed up that badly, you might as well just give up and headcanon the whole thing now.

I state again: if the ending was meant to be taken literally, it’s simply bad. There’s no way around that fact. None. And I’ve yet to hear anyone capable of addressing the logical problems just in that last scene in a way that also assumes that the scene is literally happening. It is, in short, a complete clusterfish.* Or not. Depending. One opinion matches what BioWare has told us, one doesn’t. Which is better? Decide for yourself, but don’t be rude about it either way. For me, I’m going to go with the assumption that says I didn’t just give $80 to a bunch of hacks.

Objection: Indoctrination Theorists are Trying to Shoehorn Us Into Picking Destroy.

This is the, “BioWare didn’t give us enough choices, and you’re trying to take two of them away,” argument. It even goes so far as to suggest that having Shepard be indoctrinated could make a more interesting story, because we could control his/her squadmates to ‘rescue’ him/her.

My response? Look, I’m just telling you what I see and hear and what I think it means. I think we’re being warned away from taking two of the three options (Control, Synthesis) and that there are legitimate reasons to fear them. I’m not going to speculate about what kind of story could be told afterward. Maybe you’re right. Maybe that would be interesting. I don’t know. I don’t really want to know. I picked Destroy. All my Shepards’ WILL pick Destroy. I picked destroy without seeing the endings first, and now that I have I am confirmed in my belief that it is the sole correct choice for Shepard and for the galaxy. Anything less betrays what and who Shepard is.

And as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need any more proof than this comparison.

... Well, that doesn't look good.

Do you want to know why I argue that Destroy is the only correct ending for Shepard? It’s not even that it’s the only one where Shepard can/is shown to wake up (though I admit that is a factor). Look at those images. REALLY look at them. You know what’s wrong with them? Two of the Shepard’s in that picture aren’t Shepard anymore. They’re something ELSE. Something strange and horrifying and terrible. We’ve always complained that the ending breaks Shepard. Well, look at it. Really look at it. Look at Shepard in the Destroy ending, bottom right corner. That is what Shepard is SUPPOSED to look like. Beaten, battered, yes, but still strong, still moving forward, and most importantly still human.

Those other two images… are what a broken Shepard looks like. The Illusive Man, naturally, is there for comparison.

Destroy is the only ending where Shepard is still Shepard. If you can honestly look at those images and come to any other conclusion, there’s nothing I can do to help you. You have been indoctrinated.

Let me say that again. If you can honestly look at those images and come to any other conclusion, there’s nothing I can do to help you. You have been indoctrinated. Not even Shepard anymore. YOU. Even if, goddess forbid, it turns out that this is literal and Shepard is really experiencing these fundamentally illogical and idiotic things, those images are all the proof I need to know what the right choice is.

In short, Indoctrination Theory isn’t trying to steer you toward destroy. The game itself is.

This isn’t a Paragon versus Renegade choice anymore – though the ending uses the colors we’ve always associated with them. It’s a choice of whether Shepard is going to lay down the core of her identity and surrender, or keep fighting and continue being the Shepard we’ve always known. Even if that leads to her DEATH, that would be fundamentally preferable. I would rather die as a human than live as a monster. Anything less is a betrayal of who Shepard is.

And maybe that is the real message of Mass Effect 3. And if so… hell. Even as mad as I’ve been, I have to admit, maybe it is kind of beautiful. Assuming that a kick in the quad can ever have anything beautiful about it.

Now, this is actually two separate complaints. The second one, the complaint about BioWare not giving us variation, is a legitimate one and I agree to an extent. The thing is, if the ending was complete and coherent, the final choice wouldn’t be the important one for having variation of the story, it’s all the ones we made before that. Even Mass Effect 2 had basically 2 choices, but the rest of the choices we’d made still felt important. And BioWare, admittedly, dropped the ball here. At least by my estimation. We’re given no context for what happens after we make the final choice, whether Shepard lives or dies, what happens to his/her crew… This is a legitimate problem that BioWare has claimed will be solved in the extended cut – a chance to see our choices play out. We’ll see how it winds up working.


Assuming IT is false or an unintended interpretation, those answers are unlikely to help me significantly.

Assuming IT is true… the story picks up when Shepard wakes up. And THAT is a story I want to see told. I want to see what happens when Shepard stands, bruised, but alive and whole of mind, and figuratively or literally spits in Harbinger’s eye. That’s where I want to pick up.

And this was a small part of an exchange I had with Jessica Merizan during my initial frustration with the ending, when I first found Indoctrination Theory and initially found it wanting.

Referring to the StarChild, naturally.

Seriously. Full disclaimer, I had to screen-cap this from Angry Joe's video on IT, because finding it on Twitter would have taken FOREVER. Please excuse the quality.

This was my position then. I’ve gone from that, to wanting a complete rewrite, and circled back to my original position. Here I stand. Here I hold the line. This is what I want, BioWare. This is what I’ve always wanted. If you can give me that, or something equally acceptable, I’ll hail you as GODS of storytelling. If you can’t… I’m not sure I want what you’re selling anymore.

Hints have existed since the beginning that there’s more to the ending that we’ve been shown, and God willing the Extended Cut DLC will answer all our questions. Because if it doesn’t… well. That would be terrible.

This is no more the Dark Side than Anderson is a Renegade.

Again: I stand with Retake Mass Effect. They are my friends, my fellow gamers, and I will fight with them until the end. But I believe there is more to the story we’ve been shown, and so I also trust BioWare. I trust them to show us the real reasons behind what we see. And I trust them to finish what they’ve started.


*Again, thanks go to htewing for coining the phrase, “Clusterfish.” I think that may be my favorite thing about this whole thing.Except Marauder Shields.

For Marauder Shields, the First of Us to Fall.

He Died Trying to Stop Us.

We Should Have Listened.

In His Memory, We Hold the Line.


5 responses to “In Defense: A Rational Rebuttal of the Most Common Objections to Indoctrination Theory

  • Heidi T Ewing (@htewing)

    I love that clusterfish has become one of those things you can take away from this movement. ^_^ Great breakdown of IT, btw, and glad those pictures helped. I tried to find as many as possible.

  • Jim Richardson (@TheUglyDougling)

    Another great piece, but could you please be more condescending like that one guy who recently wrote a long-winded, so-called logical argument against IT?

  • csm

    By only believing what Bioware tells you as the truth, you’ve been indoctrinated by them. See, not only did Bioware indoctrinate Shepard during the ending based off of what choice you pick, they indoctrinated the players as well.

    To not being indoctrinated by Bioware, you must decide for yourself whether Shepard was indoctrinated based off the clues and evidence that you find throughout the game.

    Otherwise, I’d say people have succumbed to Bioware’s indoctrination test. Not the Reapers.

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