Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part I: My View on the “Indoctrination Theory” and why I Didn’t Choose Destruction

An article in my Elements of Storytelling column will soon go live that will give my take on where the ending went wrong on Mass Effect 3. What this blog post will instead be about is where I think the “Indoctrination Theory” is both right and wrong, and my own personal pet peeve over the IDers (as it were) insistence that the “Destroy All Synthetics” choice is the only “correct” choice.

For those not familiar with the ID theory, it is a theory that popped up on the Internet by Mass Effect fans who were trying to make sense out of a badly done ending to the storyline for the Mass Effect 3 video game. Basically, they were trying to explain, mostly to themselves, about how it really isn’t as big a screw up as had originally been thought.  Here is a video that provides the facts, in depth, that the theory is based on:

While there is certainly evidence to some amount of hallucinating going on during the ending scenes, and it’s likely that either the Reapers or perhaps the Illusive Man, himself, is attempting to “Indoctrinate” Commander Shepard before he reaches the Catalyst, I do not think the whole entire ending was just a bad dream or whatever.  It seemed to me, as I played through the ending, that what happened actually happened physically while an Indoctrination attempt was occurring. In other words, some parts are clearly hallucinations, but his confrontation with the Illusive Man and his encounter with the ghost child/Catalyst were physical, and the results of Shepard’s choice was also physical.

But I do have a bone to pick with the assumption that the “Destroy All Synthetics” option is the only “right” choice. Mainly because it is an assumption based off an assumption: that synthetics can’t have souls. Even though the storyline makes it quite clear, at least as pertaining to the Mass effect universe, that even though synthetics might not start out with souls, they can eventually develop one. The proof of this is in two highly lovable characters: Legion and EDI.

Legion is a Geth. Geth are basically colonies of AI software within a hardware chassis, and (if you manage to get the Geth and Quarians to stop trying to kill each other) you discover that the Geth are also capable of “installing” themselves into the Quarian’s (their organic creators) environmental suits, and even into the Quarian’s bodies to boost their otherwise fubarred immune systems.  There’s a reason I’m explaining that part as you’ll see later.

The thing about Legion is he sacrifices himself for his fellow Geth, but when he does so, at his last moment, he ceases to refer to himself as “we” and starts saying “I”. By doing so, he shows that even a collectivized set of software programs like the Geth can achieve individuality, or as EDI eloquently put it in a later scene: “He became a person.”

To become a person is to become a soul, because that is what a soul is: your self-awareness, your individuality, your personality.

And speaking of EDI, watch this scene and then tell me that EDI also hasn’t developed a soul of her own by this point:

Another thing that makes EDI so interesting is that she was created with Reaper technology…and yet she never ever displays any of the arrogant condescending attitude toward organics that the Reapers display in their quest to fulfill their creators’ wishes: to “save” organic life from the synthetics by, every 50,000 years, wiping out all organic civilizations that are technologically capable of creating advanced AIs.  (What brilliant person thought that silly solution up? Oh yeah….).

And now to another problem I have with the “Destroy All Synthetics” option. Considering the time period, just how many advanced life forms in the galaxy are at least partly if not half synthetic? What happens when your AI-ran pace-maker fries? Oh right….

Ya kinda just did the Reapers job for them, didn’t ya’?

Also, by killing off the Geth you just doomed (at minimum) the Quarians – unless you really screwed the pooch and ended up with either the Geth or the Quarians already wiped out. So yeah, you kill the Reapers, but also EDI, the Geth, and any Humans/Turians/Salarians/Asari with AI pace-makers/biotics enhancers/et., al. (at least in the “Bad” ending for the “Destroy” option).

Good going, you genocidal maniac. :/

And did anyone but me notice that the synthetic races were the only innocent ones out of the whole bunch? The Geth never did anything except in self defense. It was, after all, the Quarians who had started the war by trying to wipe them out. And the Geth fought defensively the whole entire time. Of the Geth “Heretics” who chose to serve the Reapers, even they did so only out of self-defense. What would you do if your own creators were attempting to genocide you and your whole kind and another more powerful group offered an alliance to save your ass?


Even the Reapers are innocent. Despite being a synthetic/organic hybrid, they have no free will of their own. Literally none. They only do what their creator(s) programmed them to do. That’s why there’s a “Control the Reapers” option (Duh!). It doesn’t matter if that is what the Illusive Man was trying to do. Because he clearly couldn’t. Why? Because you can’t control that which already has control of you. The whole reason “Control” is even an option for Shepard is because, unlike the Illusive Man, they couldn’t indoctrinate Shepard, they failed to. Hence why Shep got to meet the Catalyst – Shep being the only life form in millions of years to succeed at doing so – instead of the Illusive Man.

So congratulations: you chose to commit genocide on no less than three entire species (the Reapers, the Geth, and the Quarians) at minimum. And all while other, less genocidal options were available. Pat yourself on the back.

That’s it for Part 1. In Part 2 I’ll explain why I picked “Synthesis” over “Destroy” or “Control.” But for now, I’ll leave you with a little hint: it has to do with the name, Shepard. 😉

And here’s some ME music to enjoy:

Addendum: I just heard that the extended cut ending DLC for Mass effect 3 will be available this Tuesday.  So, pretty soon, we’ll all know what the “real” ending will be…hopefully….

June 23, 2012 - Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , ,


  1. While I still have a lot of problems with the endings, this is much, much better. It’s not nearly so jarring and inconclusive, as you say. Unless they were going to retcon the whole ending entirely, there wasn’t much they could do about the deus ex and space magic, but I appreciate that they tried to give us more information to at least make some sense of it.

    Comment by offshore bank account | August 31, 2012 | Reply

    • What do you think of all the extra stuff added by the later DLCs? (Leviathan, Omega, and Citadel? – especially Leviathan)

      Comment by smsand | April 8, 2014 | Reply

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