Shepherd is one the primary characters in the Mass Effect video game series. According to the indoctrination theory, the third game of the series suggests that the character was mind-washed at the end of the game. That would imply that the battle which takes place after the character goes into the Citadel doesn’t actually take place in real-life, but would take place in the mind.
Indoctrination was a primary theme in the storyline of Mass Effect and a heavy component of the scripts in the first and second video games.
Why the Ending of Mass Effect 3 Supports the Indoctrination Theory
Unlike most video games, the third installment of Mass Effect ended in an unusual way. Gamers didn’t need to fight a final boss. There were still plot holes present in the story. It was a very anti-climactic ending that left many feeling unsatisfied. It is this unconventional ending that led to the development of the indoctrination theory in the first place.
Those who loved the ending of the game tend to support the theory that the ending sequence, which happens after Harbinger attacked Shepherd, transitions the remainder of the game to take place within Shepherd’s mind.
When Shepherd is hit, within the game, it is clear that the character is left unconscious. Perhaps Shepherd is close to death. Maybe his mind has been weakened by the attack. That leaves the character to be vulnerable to indoctrination. It could be said that the remainder of the game is even the subconscious battle that Shepherd has while attempting to fight off the indoctrination.
Shepherd must choose a specific side of his psyche before coming to grips with the true test near the end of the game. The character watches Anderson die, then crawls toward the primary control panel, but then passes out before reaching it.
The Key Points Which Support the Indoctrination Theory
1. The dream sequences provide obvious symbolism throughout Mass Effect 3. This clearly takes place within Shepherd’s mind. The boy in these sequences is ever-present, enveloped in flames, and the final dream sequence includes Shepherd with the boy.
2. It could be argued that Shepherd’s eyes at the end of the game seem to show evidence of indoctrination. They are similar to the eyes of the other characters within the game that have had their indoctrination confirmed.
3. The breath scene right before the end credits. To achieve this scene, the gamer must choose “Destroy” and have a high EMS score. All other outcomes in the final choice go against everything Shepherd was fighting for within the series or provides an outcome where everyone just dies.
That means the indoctrination theory for the game is much like a hidden reward scene that only unlocks for players that achieve a specific outcome. Several games offer these hidden rewards for gamers that go “above and beyond” in their gameplay. Super Mario Odyssey, recently released on the Nintendo Switch took this concept a step further by providing gamers with coin groups and shortcuts for areas that can only be accessed through user skill.
What if Shepherd is Actually Dead?
If a person becomes indoctrinated, one could argue that their personality is “dead.” They are no longer the person they used to be. Within the core of Mass Effect 3, references to the afterlife are included. When the Citadel DLC is added to the game, what follows is like a “reward” for succumbing to the indoctrination.
Would you sell your soul for having access to a nice apartment? Being able to spend time with all your friends? To have access to an arcade and a casino when you just happen to be bored?
In the DLC, gamers actually face a clone of Shepherd. This type of doppelganger conflict is often used as a literary omen that suggests death is about to occur. For the indoctrination theory, this could be evidence of one final conflict of the “real” Shepherd attempting to win over the “indoctrinated” Shepherd.
In reality, Mass Effect 3 might have a specific ending that its writers envisioned for the game, but it is an ending that is open to personal interpretation. The indoctrination theory is a common explanation for the ending that was achieved, especially when the hidden reward scene is included, but it is not the only explanation that is available.
Did you play Mass Effect 3? What did you think of the ending? How did you interpret the events that occurred?