Tag Archives: BioWare

Indoctrination Theory Confirmed: Or, How I learned to Relax and Love the BioWare

I’m a latecomer, I know. I’ve been clinging to pieces of the indoctrination theory because it was the only thing that I felt could POSSIBLY excuse, let alone explain that monster of an ending.

Yes, THAT monster of an ending. Wait, no, this isn't the monstrous part. Spoilers follow, obviously.

And the more I think about it, the more everything fits. It just… takes getting used to.

I’ve seen lengthy analysis on both sides, weighed the arguments, and finally been pointed to the one last piece of evidence that I feel constitutes proof that something is legitimately weird here, and that BioWare did it on purpose. And suddenly, I realized I’ve been maddened because I’m not used to treating games the way I treat movies. But the non-interactive nature of the ending… sort of demands that treatment.

And if so… then the ending to Mass Effect 3 may well be the most legitimately amazing thing in the history of video games, and I am merely disappointed that the story seemingly ends before the best part — something I now hope will be corrected in the Extended Cut.

Before I continue, though, I will also add: I still stand with RetakeMassEffect and HoldTheLine.Com – and I refuse, categorically, to accuse anyone of disliking the ending because they ‘don’t understand it.’ Simply put: there are multiple levels to view any piece of fiction on, and this is a BIG jump to make in a series like Mass Effect. One that has never before asked us to question Shepard’s perception of reality, or our own sanity. Viewed on a surface reading, the ending makes no sense and is objectively terrible, violating many of the series primary themes and possibly condoning genocide. But I write this because I now dare to hope that there’s something behind that surface, something that is begging us to look deeper and question what we are being shown. I write because I am convinced that BioWare took a huge storytelling risk… and is now watching it backfire spectacularly, and handling it the best they can.

Indoctrination Theorists: I beg you, let the theory stand on its own merits. Present your evidence to all you wish, but accusing people of being “too linear” or “not understanding” does you no favors. In short, don’t be a dick.

Let me run through what convinced me, and see if it will do the same for you. I’ll start with the common evidence and move on from there.

1. Shepard’s dreams.

First of all, these dreams (like much of the ending) are barely interactive. There’s only one thing to do: move toward the kid, hear whispers, see shadows, hear reaper noise, watch kid burn.

We hate this child. Seriously.

I won't lie. You go through this dream sequence enough times, pretty soon you start to cheer when the kid bursts into flames. This game gave us ISSUES, man.

Shepard has three of these dreams, getting gradually worse (more shadows, more whispers from dead friends, all that rot), but they’re all basically the same except for the last one. In the final dream, Shepard sees himself embracing the child, then watches both of them burn. Not happy, nor frightened, just staring at him. And since we’re talking about character models and not actors… we have to conclude that those expressions are very deliberate (Meanwhile the look on Shepard proper’s face is much more in tune with the nightmarish nature of the scene).

Side note: it could be argued that scenes like this are where Mass Effect 3 feels the weakest, and also the least like a video game. But that would be an entirely separate issue, and since Batman: Arkham Asylum/City both did it and got away with it, I’m willing to let it slide. Let’s move on.

The first two could be mere nightmares, Shepard mourning the loss of those he couldn’t save, but this one is different. It has a distinct meaning. And given the ham-fisted symbolism here it’s hard to read it more than one way.

The obvious interpretation: embrace the child at your peril. Following this child will lead to your doom, Shepard. Take heed. This is a warning.

This, however, is just true. And a little funny.

2. The trees.

Shepard’s “unhappy place,” as I like to think of it, has very distinctive trees. These appear again as Shepard sloooooowly staggers forward toward the teleport ray (and a possible death at the hands of Marauder Shields…) after Harbinger’s beam, but not before. They had to be added deliberately.

Seriously. THOSE WERE NOT THERE. There has to be a reason for that.

One could argue that they’re simply reused art assets, but one would still have to contend with the fact that they weren’t there before Shepard was struck. Why add them unless something has changed?

Either Shepard is unconscious and dreaming, (fairly likely given the other logical inconsistencies that have been well covered by many others, such as Hackett’s radio call), or she is conscious, but hallucinating. A LOT. And lest we forget, the second game spent a LOT of time hammering home the idea that Harbinger wants Shepard alive. And right now, Shepard is right where the reapers want her.

3. Shepard’s wound.

Putting aside the questions of the pathway – how Anderson got here first, how he followed us up when there’s only one path, where The Illusive Man even comes from, why there’s still TRAFFIC on the citadel when it’s been cleared out by the Reapers… Ignoring all of that, even though it’s reasonably compelling on its own. Putting aside the question of how The Illusive Man could control Shepard without a control chip (something the game reminds you you don’t have several times, very deliberately – the plot point gets like three subplots devoted to it).

We also spend a lot of time looking at this face, which now not even a mother could love. But that isn't important yet. Keep reading.

Shepard is forced to shoot Anderson in his lower left side… then shown shortly after clutching that spot on his own side, bleeding from a fresh wound. Don’t ask for a picture here: YouTube it if you want to double check me. It’s easy to spot.

That does not happen by accident. We are shown this very deliberately. We are meant to see it and question it and think about it. It gets its own close-up, and as an old girlfriend once told me, close-ups tell the story. A close-up only happens if the filmmaker (or game designer) wants to draw your attention to a detail.

In any film, this would be an obvious sign… and since the game is at its most film-like here (annoyingly enough: separate issue entirely, as I mentioned above) we have little choice but to interpret it the same way we would in a film. Conclusion? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

4. The sudden reversal.

Oh, HAI there, creepy child from my nightmares! I instantly believe everything you say, because I find the word of a genocidal monster that preys on my subconscious implicitly trustworthy! I'll just shuffle toward my doom, now.

Suddenly, we are lifted from a setting with a few inconsistencies (but still mostly believable) to a world of seemingly utter nonsense. If taken at face value, this scene raises more questions than I can count, and the only conclusion I can draw is that it was meant to. For example?

  • Why does the AI look like the child from my dreams when I’m the only one who knows what the damn kid looks like?
  • Why am I shooting this tube?
  • Who designed this crazy thing?
  • Why didn’t they just make a big red threatening button and put a sign over it that tells me, “please don’t touch that?”
  • No, really, WHY AM I SHOOTING THIS TUBE?
  • Why can’t I argue?
  • Why do two of the options presented – the ones this child claims are optimal – sound so incredibly STUPID?
  • Why are we suddenly pretending that controlling the reapers is a paragon action when I’ve always paragon argued against it?
  • What the HELL, space magic?!?!!?1!?!ELEVEN?1!?

And so on.

Mass Effect does not deal in “transcendent planes of existence,” – never has, probably never will, and if it was going to it damn well should have foreshadowed it somehow – so anything this illogical can only be a) completely real, poorly written, and therefore a giant waste of my time and money, or b) completely unreal, and a construct of Shepard’s mind.

It only makes sense if interpreted as a fundamentally unreal experience… and it only makes sense if you understand Indoctrination and are familiar with the two previous major villains of the series, Saren and the Illusive Man… One of whom you were reminded about when you watched him die, indoctrinated, not two minutes ago, and the other of whom you MAY have been reminded of at the same time when The Illusive Man shoots himself – just like Saren.

Side note, Saren and the Geth would be an AWESOME Mass Effect themed band.

Yes, THAT Saren.

(Unless you’re like me and you just shot TIM yourself. And who can blame you?)

The AI offers you three paths, two of which it claims are better. Control and Synthesis. Control is advocated by The Illusive Man, Anderson (who has always been someone you trust and agree with) stands for Destruction… And Synthesis was advocated by Saren in the first game. Don’t believe me? Try this quote on for size:

I’m not doing this for myself. Don’t you see, Sovreign will succeed. It is inevitable. My way is the only way any of us will survive. I’m forging an alliance between us and the Reapers, between organics and machines, and in doing so, I will save more lives than have ever existed. But you would undo my work. You would doom our entire civilization to complete annihilation, and for that, you must die.

You, the player, are meant to remember this detail and question this. Shepard cannot. There is no other logical explanation for a reversal of this magnitude.

And lest we forget, I refer you back to Shepard’s dream. Siding with the child leads to her doom.

Proof? I can offer proof.

5. The music, and the final visual cue.

Sadly, these two last warnings do not appear until it is too late to change your mind. And had I not sought video of the two endings I didn’t choose, I might never have noticed them… and the first, I still might not have caught had it not been pointed out to me.

The first one is subtle. Right before making your choice, at the end of the pathway, right as the ending goes into full cut-scene mode (AAAARGH) the music changes. And right after the change, but before the soulful piano piece that now fills so many of us with rage and sadness… There is a brief musical cue. An interlude, if you will, separate from either track.

For Control and Synthesis, this cue is identical. It includes the distinctive sound of a reaper, and is dissonant and off-putting.

For Destroy, it is almost… Hopeful. Undeniably positive.

Listen for yourself at that point in all three paths and tell me I’m wrong. It’s there, and it’s deliberate, and it’s very obvious once you’ve heard it.

Music is never accidental in a big budget game, nor in a film. If that sound is there (and it is), it is there for a purpose. It is there for you, the player, to hear… even if you’re not consciously aware of it. It had to be written, uniquely for that moment. Especially for a cut-scene or a transition like that one.

The next point is a more common one. In the Control and Synthesis endings, Shepard’s eyes take on the appearance of Saren’s or The Illusive Man’s. The eyes of someone who’s been indoctrinated. And once again, we’re given a close-up to emphasize the detail. We see Shepard’s skin pulling back to reveal the same kind of metallic substance we saw on The Illusive Man’s face minutes ago. And then, we see Shepard seemingly die.

I remind you, close-ups tell the story. They highlight details the developers want you to notice.

In destruction, those visual cues do not appear. We see Shepard’s eyes are his own. We get a close-up, again, to hammer this point home. We see Shepard idiotically walking toward the exploding tube in a very purposeful manner, and then…

Well.

For once, Illusive Man, we DO agree.

We get the same bullshit “visions of hope” in all three choices, assuming your EMS was high enough to not destroy the universe by mistake. And if your EMS is high enough, in the destroy ending… You get that ridiculous teaser of Shepard breathing in rubble that does NOT look like anything on the citadel. At all. Especially if (as some of the writers have evidently asserted) the citadel isn’t destroyed in any of the endings.

And several have pointed out that it’s possible to see EDI alive in the Red ending if she was in your final squad…

Shepard breathes that last breath only in the destroy ending… despite the child’s claims that it would kill you, as well, on the grounds that “even you are part synthetic.”

Legion's sacrifice might not have been in vain.

Explanation? Simple. The kid is lying. I mean, seriously. He’s trying to con us. Make the two endings he favors (Control, Synthesis) appear as “good” as possible by claiming that the consequences of the red ending will be dire. The Geth are incredibly sympathetic characters, and the little brat knows it. He lies to you to make you hesitate to do what you have ALWAYS known you had to do. It’s a hostage situation, and he thinks he can use the Geth as shields to protect the reapers from your wrath.

Simple fact: we have no more reason to accept his word on the consequences of our choice than we do to accept that his “solution” is better than ours, and everything about this scene is designed to make us question his statements. We, the players, have to take the step he tries to steer us away from… and yes, that includes illogically shooting the exploding glass tube.

So why won’t BioWare just admit that this is what they meant?

When asked about Indoctrination Theory, the panel at PAX refused to confirm or deny it. Jessica Merizan has also refused to refute it on the grounds of “liking literary analysis,” which honestly is probably true (and let’s not forget, she is a fan, like us, and may not have the information she’d need to officially confirm or deny it anyway. And as always, the disclaimer that her tweets represent her own opinion and should not be taken as “word of God/Dev” applies. Be nice to her. She’s cool. Seriously. Don’t make me send out the owlbears, because I will.)

But I think there may be another reason why they haven’t confirmed it – despite the plentiful and now apparent clues that it MUST be true, or something like it. Keeping in mind that this is only speculation on my part (I know, we hate that word…)

Why?

I’m glad you asked. The answer is actually pretty simple.

Because they can’t.

Huh?

They literally cannot tell us that this is true without completely destroying the point.

Think about it. If the entire point was for us, the players, to come to this conclusion on our own and wrestle with the damn thing, telling us it’s true ruins the puzzle. And if the theory is true, that would go against the entire purpose of the exercise.

Of course, the problem with this defense is that even if it’s NOT true, they probably still wouldn’t tell us, because it’s too brilliant. But let’s assume, for the moment, that we’re dealing with skilled writers here, and that they actually have crafted something incredible, if VERY frustrating.

My chief frustration in all this is that I was told before buying the game that it would be the end of Shepard’s story, and that this is not an ending: it is merely the place the writers stopped writing. If all this is meant to indicate that the real ending to the story hasn’t happened yet, I want to see what happens NEXT.

But now… I’m getting the distinct impression that BioWare has changed their tune.

Repeatedly since the outcry began, we have glossed over the message of the StarGazer (mainly because we were so ANNOYED by him after that perceived clusterfish* of an ending and the call to purchase more DLC while we were still emotionally fragile. It takes a real quad to ask someone for money after you’ve just kicked them in theirs.)

*Thanks to htewing for coining that one.

That message: One more story.

Blog posts from BioWare in response to our outcry have even casually (between all the apparent PR approved doubletalk and perceived marginalization of our collective voices) suggested the possibility of both story DLC and full Mass Effect games to come, along with the quote, you haven’t seen the last of Commander Shepard.

What do we do now?

We wait. There is every possibility that the free ending DLC (The Extended Cut) will clear this issue up, or at least make the game more satisfying without having to constantly play detective. Not that I’m against playing detective, mind you, but it is getting to be a bit of a headache.

We wait. We hold the line. We keep holding out for what we really need (the REAL end to the story and the fate of our friends) and support BioWare’s staff as best we can.

For me, there can only be one option.

I am an Indoctrination Theorist: I have Seen The Ending Within The Ending, and I Want to See What Happens When Shepard Wakes Up. I have Faith in BioWare, in Commander Shepard, and in my Fellow Gamers. I Trust that BioWare will Resolve This Controversy Well and Effectively, and Address Our Concerns, and promise that When they do so I shall Sing their Praises (and probably purchase everything I can find with a Mass Effect Logo On It). Until I Am Vindicated, I Will Hold The Line.

In loving memory of Marauder Shields, the first of us to fall.

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Mass Effect 3: You keep using that meme. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Okay, a word of warning: I’m a little upset right now and apt to use crude language and cruder metaphors to make my point. If either of those things bother you… well, you probably wouldn’t be on the internet. But just in case, here’s a kitten.

Dawwww.

Can I get a 'dawwww'?

Now that that’s out of the way…

I’m going to make a very crude argument for why the “changing the ending to Mass Effect 3 would set a bad precedent for art” argument falls flat.

Well, actually I’m going to make one less crude argument first and then move on to the crude one.

First of all, random person who disagrees with me but deliberately sought me out so you could insult my intelligence and demonstrate how poor your comprehension of the entire situation is, you can’t set a precedent unless you’re the first one to do something. And this would not be the first time an ending changed because people didn’t like it. That’s what test audiences are for in the film industry. It’s why authors have their friends and editors read a book before releasing it. It’s why Bethesda released the Broken Steel DLC. ‘Art’ changes all the time. It happens any time ‘art’ intersects with ‘the desire of artists to make a living.’

So. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my ending. Prepare to... um. Wait, what?

The problem is that in this case the test audience is composed of thousands of upset fans who preordered the game expecting something with an ending that wasn’t terrible (Or genius but incomplete, depending on what you’ve been smoking this morning). Specifically, something that lived up to the promises made during the prerelease hype that made us buy the game because they sounded good

Perhaps you can understand why we’d be a little upset.

Now, it’s time for the crude argument we’ve all been waiting for, kids.

I’m going to start this off by pointing out the even more obvious problem with the argument. I’m a design student. And arguing ‘artistic integrity’ to defend something that was meant to be sold but did not satisfy a significant portion of its audience tells me that you do not understand art, either.

You want to know what one of the first things we learned in design class was?

Design is to art as sex is to masturbation. 

I kid you not. I got that straight from one of the best teachers I ever had, and let me tell you why it’s applicable now.

If you’re having sex, and your partner doesn’t like what you’re doing… you fucking change what you’re doing. You don’t whine about how that would compromise your sexual integrity or some shit like that. You compromise. You find something that will make both of you happy. You seek middle ground. And if you disagree with this point I suspect your lovers will be very unhappy. 

If you’re masturbating, of course, nobody can tell you you’re doing it wrong. 😛

Now, sometimes a designer can argue that it’s better his way and convince the client and make them happy. Sometimes the client/customer doesn’t know what they want, and it’s your job to help them see it your way. That’s fine. But BioWare hasn’t exactly gone out of their way to make a convincing argument that the ending is better how it is. And claiming ‘artistic integrity’ doesn’t cut it.

Until they do, I’m going to keep holding the line.

I’m tired of the ‘artistic’ argument. I’m tired of the ‘bittersweet’ argument. And I’m tired of dealing with people who want to assume that I’m a ‘linear’ thinker who ‘didn’t get it.’ This is the kind of argument that makes me apply Hanlon’s Razor to your comment and opt to stop dealing with you.

I welcome civil discussion, but using the same tired arguments as everyone else will get you nowhere fast. They’re just as wrong now as they were a week ago.

Lastly: I support Retake Mass Effect. I believe that BioWare has claimed repeatedly that Mass Effect is OUR story, and we should have some say in how it ends.

And if you just want to insult me, I have one thing to say to you.

Get the hell off my ship.


Mass Effect 3: Understanding the Reaper Threat

So, I had an epiphany last night while discussing Mass Effect on Twitter with a few of the awesome people from my round table review session.

Specifically, on the nature of the reapers, and why the claims of the Catalyst… might not be as far fetched as I first believed. Though I firmly believe it is lying to Shepard, I am starting to glimpse the half-truths behind those lies.

Throughout the series, the Reapers make claims such as the following:

“We are your salvation through destruction.”

“We are the ultimate result of evolution.”

“Each of us, a nation.”

“We are eternal.”

“You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.”

They claim to bring “order” to the “chaos” of the galaxy. And everywhere they go, they create brainwashed sleeper agents and mindless husks.

Mild spoilers follow:

The Catalyst (a character I am obviously no great fan of, and who I believe may be the reaper known as Harbinger in disguise) claims the reapers’ purpose is to prevent an ‘inevitable’ conflict between organics and synthetics by ‘harvesting’ organic races at the peak of their civilizations and “preserving them in reaper form.”

Now, obviously from the perspective of an organic who’d like to keep his current form, this makes no sense. But maybe it’s not completely crazy. If we pause to think about it for a second. What sort of conditions could give rise to a being with this belief system, however wrong headed and evil it might be?

I’m going to spin a theory about the origins of the “Cycle” in Mass Effect, and about the origin of the series’ ultimate villains.

This theory makes a few assumptions:

1) Indoctrination theory is true… mostly.

2) The Catalyst is telling PART of the truth, as it perceives it, but bending that truth heavily in its favor.

3) It has reasons for those perceptions, but they are still wrong.

Onward.

We’ve seen how reapers are ‘born’ in Mass Effect 2. A horrifying process that transforms thousands of organics into a single massive synthetic – a reaper.

Imagine for a moment a galaxy many cycles in the past. Say, several million years or more. Perhaps even billions.

A great civilization is at the height of its existence, and gives birth to A.I. Like many sci-fi horror stories, it does not end well. A massive war ensues. By the time it nears its end, no one can remember who launched the first attack. It’s kill or be killed. Synthetic versus organic. Created versus creator.

This massive war goes on for hundreds of years. It is brutal beyond imagination. Whole species are wiped out by the synthetics. And still, it rages on. No end in sight.

Finally, one advanced species – or a small group of them, perhaps a cult of scientists – in what they realize is the twilight of their existence, has a final moment of clarity. The only way to preserve their species in any shape, any form… is to distill the essence of their species into a single massive cybernetic creature. Part organic, part synthetic, eternal, unchanging, and powerful beyond anything their time had ever seen.

And so they do it. They subject themselves deliberately to the process we witness forced on humanity in Mass Effect 2. They create what would be the first “Reaper,” – a name that would be given to them later by the future victims – their species’ last devastating answer to the threat of extinction. They embrace “ascension.” Not all are on board with this plan; many are forced into it unwillingly. But regardless, the process is – beyond all probability – successful.

Imagine for a moment the kind of horror that would motivate a species to embrace a plan like the one we witnessed as their last hope. Imagine the scar that would leave on their collective psyche. If you can comprehend that, even for a moment, you have some idea of how a reaper thinks.

This first reaper destroys the synthetics threaten its former civilization. But it has been unhinged by the process that created it. It sees itself as a godlike entity (and understandably, for what could stand against it?). It believes itself superior.

And yes, it believes that the conflict between organics and synthetics… is inevitable. It sees itself as the solution to this problem – its original mission. But its not a life form any longer. It’s a machine. Unchanging, eternal, yes, but inflexible. Rigid.

It believes that other races must be “uplifted” and become like it to stop the war with the synthetics. It believes that only it is fit to control, and that organics are inherently “chaotic” when left to their own devices. By taking control, it believes it is ‘helping’ – after a fashion. By destroying what makes them unique, what makes them alive. The first husks, the first reaper creatures are born from the remnants of its own species, and soon those of others… eventually leading up to the creation of yet another reaper. And another. And all this time, it continues the war against the synthetics as well, who are ill prepared to deal with something this powerful. Some of them, it bends to its will.

It sets about forcing this process on the remaining advanced civilizations of its time period, perhaps discovering the tricks of Indoctrination along the way. It feels few emotions, save the rage of its creators, and its own sense of pride. Its belief in its own infallibility. It believes that it was born from chaos, and brings order – no, it IS order. It believes that it must take control in order to prevent organics from destroying themselves; that destroying some civilizations is better than allowing them to spawn synthetics that could destroy ALL civilizations.

It is a product of its time. It sees the conflict that spawned it as inevitable, and communicates this same belief to its newly uplifted brethren. It believes that the most worthy races should join it in its ascended state, and that the weaker races should be culled. And it believes, yes, that organics will inevitably create synthetics and lead to the same conflict again.

(And unsurprisingly, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The reapers use synthetics in their crusade, turning them against their creators at times, manipulating organic and synthetic alike in their new purpose. We hear of this from Javik; it happened in his cycle, and this does not surprise us because the reapers used the heretic geth in the same fashion.)

And so begins the Cycle. The new breed of reapers set up the Mass Relays, the citadel, and allow civilizations to develop until they reach their height, then they arrive and destroy them, or – if they are found ‘worthy,’ – they force them to ‘ascend,’ creating new reapers to aid in their work. At first they are stealthy – they sweep in undetected, out of – perhaps – a last remaining sense of self preservation.

As their numbers grow, cycle after cycle, they become bolder. The last several cycles have all resulted in long, dragged out wars, during which the “Crucible” (whatever it really is) was devised and expanded on by the brightest races before the reapers destroyed or converted them.

The problem: the reapers logic is flawed, because it does not see the value of free will, of independent thought. It sees those aspects of organic life as problems to be solved – because it assumes that the same patterns will always repeat themselves in the chaos. At first, it sees its course as the lesser of two evils. Eventually, it sees it as the only correct course. The “solution.” It ignores the values of diversity, seeing them as problems as well.

Essentially, the reapers are a product of the environment that spawned that first reaper. But because they lose what made them ‘alive’ in favor of becoming eternal machines, they are inflexible. They are unable to consider the horrifying possibility that they might be wrong. They are motivated to preserve themselves and create more like themselves, and they are motivated to control and devour in an effort to strengthen their forces. And, as they begin to see themselves as the superior beings, they desire other creatures to see them in the same way – part of the Indoctrination process creates a sense of “superstitious awe” in some of the victims.

After that… it was simply a matter of spending a few hundred thousand years perfecting their PR campaign to the point that they fell for it themselves.

They are selfish. They are inflexible. Eternal, perhaps, but stagnant. They are domineering, with a pathological NEED for control. They are the Reapers.

(And just for the record: in MY version of events, that first reaper was Harbinger. We needed more Harbinger in ME3…)

To be clear: the reapers are wrong. Horribly, hideously wrong. But not as incomprehensible as they’d have us believe. To say I understand them is not to say I agree with their reasoning. To agree with them is to submit to indoctrination, and like Shepard, I must fight.

And the reapers MUST be destroyed if the cycle is to truly end. Any alternative presented is merely a distraction. Which leads us to the choice presented at the end of Mass Effect 3 – a choice the Indoctrination Theory would tell us is more than it appears, and simultaneously not an honest one… because the result you choose is a reflection only of whether you believe the lie you’re told.

Saren believed the Reapers could bring unity between organics and synthetics (synthesis). But organics combined with reaper technology merely create husks; they are not superior by any stretch of the imagination, except by the reaper’s definition. As tools to control, they are superior. Saren was wrong.

The Illusive Man believed that destroying the reapers would be wrong; that by controlling them, he could help humanity evolve and achieve perfection. The problem is, the reapers define perfection as themselves. The human reaper we faced in ME2 is where that line of thinking leads. He was also wrong.

Shepard has always known how the conflict with the reapers must end. The galaxy must be allowed to evolve and grow on its own, without the interference of the reaper threat.

The cycle must end.

But in the meantime, I need to finish these calibrations.


Mass Effect 3: What Does All This Mean For Gaming?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ending to Mass Effect 3. In fact, I’ve been able to think of little else. For the next week after completing it I was unable to sleep properly. Granted, about three of those days were because I’m a design student and had a lot of projects due, but part of it was definitely that ending.

That bleak, seemingly universe shattering ending.

Spoilers, obviously, but I’ll try to keep them minor.

There have been a LOT of very insightful posts on the BSN about why the ending is frustrating – posts about violating the reader/writer contract, posts about the definition of tragedy and why Mass Effect isn’t one until it abruptly ends like one in the last ten minutes, posts about the emotional connection we have with the characters and the universe…

I have a gut feeling about why the ending might be the way it is, and I’d like to share it here. But before I do, just a reminder: this blog is protected by trained owlbears, and they eat rude comments and produce sarcasm.

Sombody better give a hoot!

Do they really? I don't know, I'm not a cryptozoologist.

Anyway, on to my thoughts.

Essentially, my thought is that the problems with the ending feel very strongly of a phrase that I have come to loath as a comic book fan (and a regular viewer of Atop the Fourth Wall).

That phrase is: Editorial Mandate.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with that phrase and all its loathsome implications, editorial mandate is what happens when editors take it upon themselves to dictate the course of a story instead of, you know, doing their own job and letting the writers write.

Often it results in extraordinary levels of character derailment, world breaking changes, and large amounts of handwaving or A Wizard Did It. Or, in the case of the most loathsome Marvel offender, “it’s magic; we don’t have to explain it.”

Yes, I’m still upset about that DON’TYOUDAREJUDGEME. Ahem.

One of the problems with editorial mandate is that it often forces writers to write against their own storytelling instincts and more often than not, they really, really, REALLY don’t want to. “We need you to kill off X,” and so on. Or, in this case, maybe, just maybe (I have no proof of any of this mind you), “We want you to blow up the Mass Relays.”

It also often results in stories that are poorly written, because the writer has no real investment or ownership of the forced course of the story; he just phones it in. This happens in comics, and when it does it becomes pretty easy to pick it out from the contrast with the rest of the writers work.

See: the Ending.

Now, can I prove this? No, of course not. Heck, I’m still trying to decide if I think the ending was a giant hallucination that was intended by the writers to show Shepard fighting indoctrination (and indoctrinate US, the players, in real time). But assume for a moment that the endings were meant to be taken at face value (doubtful).

In all endings, the Mass Relays are destroyed*. The Normandy runs away from the fight*, crash lands on a garden planet*, and (improbably), characters who couldn’t possibly have been on the Normandy get out*. And in somewhere between 2 and 3 endings, Shepard dies*.

*Well, maybe.

Assuming any of that actually happens, it must have been mandated to happen. Which is INCREDIBLY annoying in an RPG that centers on player choice, because honestly, we didn’t realize we were being railroaded.

Now, the problem with all this is one little spoilery fact.

If you take the Destroy All Synthetics ending and have enough preparation, Shepard lives. Probably.

There’s a little problem with this, though.

If the weird little godling was to be believed, the Destroy ending would have killed Shepard, because, and I quote, “even you are part synthetic.” Ugh, now I have to wash out my mouth with bleach because I quoted that horrible plot contrivance. Give me a moment.

Blegh.

This is worse than Lost. And we were promised it wouldn’t be like Lost.

So if the god child lied about that… what else did he lie about?

And this is the part I find most annoying. Because we don’t know. And if the ending were left as is, we’d have no way of knowing. And since for most of us, the goal wasn’t so much “destroy the reapers,” as it was, “save the galaxy we’re emotionally invested in,” having an ending that refuses to answer the important questions AND fails to provide emotional resolution… well, for lack of a better word, sucks.

I was promised answers and resolution. Not a giant mind screw.

I want to believe it was all a lie… but at the same time, I don’t, because if it is, that is an incredibly mean thing to do to your players.

Now, I asked the question in the title: what does this mean for gaming?

Well.

A movement has been going on to get the ending changed. This movement, Retake Mass Effect, raised over $80000 for Child’s Play, and now supports a new charity drive, Full Paragon. There has been an amazing level of love for Mass Effect shown, and Retake Mass Effect has done a great job of keeping it (mostly) positive.

The basic thrust of the argument is this: we were not given the endings we were promised. We want BioWare to make them and provide the series with an ending it actually deserves.

Over 60000 players have voted in at least one poll, with something like 97% of them wanting the ending changed in some fashion. If this is a ‘vocal minority,’ it’s a statistically significant one.

There have been some arguing that if Retake gets the ending changed, it will “set a bad precedent.” Actually, it wouldn’t set any precedent – games have changed their endings before. What would set a bad precedent is if the fans just rolled over and took whatever a game company makes without complaint, even if it’s not what we wanted or were promised. That sets a bad precedent for capitalism.

There have also been a lot of smear pieces written by review sites like IGN, Gamasutra, and Kotaku (who apparently has writers on both sides of the issue and is chasing page views). None of these sites included the ending in their review of the game. None of them bothered doing any research on what the disgruntled gamers disliked about the ending. None of them are worth the server space they’re taking up, apparently – too busy publishing fluff opinion pieces instead of communicating the facts. Just my opinion, but hey, this is my blog. If you didn’t want my opinion, you’re in the wrong place.

Yes, I see the irony of that statement. Remember the owlbears, smartypants.

Forbes, meanwhile, has been overwhelmingly supportive of the movement (as well as well researched and insightful), and GameFront wrote an article that proved they’d done their research. Guess which one looks more important?

We have learned that we cannot trust the majority of paid reviewers, and we must instead look to our peers – our fellow gamers – and to ourselves for honest reviews.

(And yes, Angry Joe counts. The man speaks the truth. Angrily.)

And we have seen that BioWare takes us seriously. If not, there would have been no statement – even if that statement was worded oddly and could be taken as marginalizing the movement.

We were promised an announcement in April. What form that announcement will take, we have yet to see. But there is hope. Hope for awesomeness. Hope for Mass Effect.

I should go.


Mass Effect 3: Indoctrinated Fanbase?

Alright. I have to post this addendum to my last entry.

I touched briefly on what’s called the “Indoctrination Theory” concerning the ending to Mass Effect 3.

This theory basically states that the reason the ending makes no sense is because it’s intentionally dream like, because Shepard is undergoing ‘indoctrination,’ which is essentially Reaper mind control. And it has a lot going for it, as a theory. See here for a good video breakdown of the evidence via the Angry Joe show: of special note is that about 19 minutes in, he cites one Jessica Merizan’s responses to my tweets with her about the ending. I guess this makes me a contributor to the Angry Joe show now, albeit unintentionally. You’re welcome, Joe!

Obviously, spoilers, if you haven’t played the game.

Do I believe it? I don’t know. I want to. I want to because it gives BioWare a LOT of credit, and I want to believe that. On the other hand, I don’t want to, because it’s a giant mind screw, and I genuinely loath giant mind screw endings.

The problem, as I see it, is this:

If the Indoctrination theory is false, the ending is BAD and needs to be FIXED. This belief requires me to assume that BioWare dropped the ball in a way that I’ve never seen them drop the ball before… and it requires me to believe that they actively violated their own franchise.

If the Indoctrination theory is true, the ending is GOOD, but it’s INCOMPLETE, which is almost more galling.

I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what makes more sense. I suppose whichever one lets me enjoy the game again… until April, when they’ve said they’ll be announcing their ‘content initiatives.’ Whatever that means.

Time will tell…