First off, let me be blunt: I fervently believe that the Indoctrination Theory is a terrible, horrible idea, and and "ending" that is essentially worse that the shambled mess with which we are currently stuck. I've made my opinion clear on this, but for those of you who do not know, I am opposed to based not solely on it's merits for plausibility; I recognise that it is terrible storytelling, not to mention a rotten business tactic.
No, this isn't an ending rant. This is a response to speculative conjecture based on the ending and those who rant about it. If you don't want to read about it, move on. My last blog was non-ending related, so I thought I should write some thoughts about the Indoctrination Theory that have been stirring around in my entirely-sane brain.
How It Could Have Been Done
Despite my outspoken opposition to the theory, I can admire its ingenuity, but nothing more. There could have been a proper way to implement a scenario in which the protagonist, not the player, is struggling to keep control of their mind. Theorists often point out that "the player is being indoctrinated", but that's precisely the problem; I'm not a part of the narrative, I'm simply along for the ride. If done right, that ride can be both trilling and unpredictable. What the Indoctrination Theory aims to achieve however, is arbitrary and nonsensical.
Dead Space 2 added on to this idea. The final sequences take place in Isaac's mind. This makes sense, since his internal conflict was introduced very early on. We know there is a battle in Isaac's mind, and that he's slowly going insane. After all, you start the game in a straight jacket! In one mind-blowing scene, Isaac's girlfriend, Nicole, suddenly assaults him with a screwdriver. At that moment, you probably don't realise that it's actually Isaac trying to stab himself, but that information is revealed after you survive. With the Indoctrination Theory, it's never revealed at all, even if you "win".
The final boss fight involves a slow-moving, one-hit-kill enemy-Isaac's dead girlfriend. By attacking her, he's really attacking his inner demons, and revealing the true evil behind it: The Marker. After you damage Nicole (your inner demons, your guilt) you can attack the Marker itself, which is the true underlying villain in the game.
The difference between the above scenarios and the Indoctrination Theory is that the audience isn't confused, or left to speculate. This all done without fooling the player; our assertions about the story simply turned out to be false. We never had to assume the events that were occurring weren't actually occurring to make it fun; it's our ignorance that made it such a shock. If you're going to pull a fast on the audience, at least have the courtesy to let them know after the fact. The above ideas make more sense because it has been introduced. The IT is incredibly random, unneeded, and unwanted.
Why It Shouldn't Be Done
I think the worst part of the Indoctrination Theory is that the same aspects that make it so horrible are the things that appeal to Theorists. Supporters of this believe the player is being indoctrinated, not Shepard. The problem with that is, I'm not in the story. I'm not a character in the plot, so don't involve me in it. As it stands now, the IT is the worst kind of cliff-hanger. The story ended prematurely. Theorists then, say you have to wait just to hear the truth. When I get to a good ending (i.e. Red Dead Redemption, Dead Space 2, InFamous, InFamous 2, Heavy Rain etc.) I think about it for months afterward. With the IT and the Mass Effect 3 ending, I get months of frustration, confusion, and finally (hopefully) clarity provided via downloadable content from the Internet. That's wrong. DLC shouldn't be required to enjoy a narrative. With Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, the downloadable content added-on to the narrative, it didn't complete it. Not to mention that it's entirely unfair to those lacking an Internet connection.
Another reason people get behind the theory is because it seems to clear up all the questions and plot holes in the original ending. It may wrap up some holes, but that doesn't make it a better ending. Anyone can answer a plot hole; this is fiction, after all. To me, this seems the result of desperation and disappointment. We were all expecting a fitting end to our story, and for good reason. Because an epic fail of this magnitude was totally unexpected, many of us have retreated from reason and looked to this theory for answers. The behaviour of some of these people even borders on "crazy conspiracy theorist". It's a little annoying when people take subjective comparisons (the symbolism of certain colours, reused ideas) and use that the assert it as fact.
A lot of people are attracted to this theory because they think of it as "innovative" and "ingenious". It's accepted simply because something like this has never been done before. Well there is a reason for that. It's because it's a horrible idea. The end of an epic trilogy is NOT the place for a social experiment. I'm not in the game, don't indoctrinate me. My Shepard isn't me, he's a character I crafted with his own goals, motivations, and moral compass. He does things I think are wrong, but I make choices based not only on what I think is right, but also what seems appropriate. People think this is innovative and ingenious on the part of BioWare, but again, you don't simply insert some arbitrary social experiment that has has nothing to do with the rest of the game. Experiments like this are better placed in an indie game or standalone title, but certainly not in an epic sci-fi trilogy with a focus on storytelling and player choice.
The Implausibility of Indoctrination
I don't want to spend to much time on this, but I do want to mention a few holes in the theory outright. However, due to the speculative nature of the theory itself, debating it's merits based on plausibility is foolish. I just wanted to throw this in.
Indoctrination is the Reaper's ability to manipulate the minds of sapient beings. Whilst the exact method of doing this is unclear, it probably doesn't involve an obscure dead child and an arbitrary three-way split decision. It's likely that if you spend a lot of time near Reaper stuff, you end up on their payroll. Shepard and co. are the obvious exception, but whether this is due to sheer willpower or plot armour is just semantics. What matters here is there is never any mention of a bizarre dream sequence, with a dead kid the Reapers don't even know about. I was always under the impression that being indoctrinated wasn't a choice, but a process. Somehow I highly doubt the Reapers are nice enough to ask you if you want to join them. Not exactly their modus operandi, you know?
Also, the whole thing seems convoluted an unnecessary. If Shepard makes the wrong choice in a dream, the Reapers win the whole war? How are those things even connected? Any why in the hell is Shepard being indoctrinated in the first place? If he's unconscious, how about just killing him? They seem to be going far out of their way for nothing.
Another thing: if Shepard got hit with the beam, they'd probably be dead. I'm not sure if that applies to both the actual ending and the theory, but I thought I should point that out. Heavily-Armoured Tanks were being decimated by one small slice of Harbinger's death ray. Don't tell me Shep can survive a direct hit. Since when do laser beams even explode?
This is probably the biggest hole in the Theory. This alone should be enough to debunk the whole thing: If Shepard has a low EMS score, the only option the Catalyst/God Child/Harbinger offers is Destroy. According to the IT, choosing Destroy allows you to survive and defeat the Reapers. If you are unprepared and have less military strength, why are you GUARANTEED to win? Yes, that's right. If you are weak and unprepared for the final fight, you automatically win, because the Reapers let you win. They indoctrinate you, then force you to resist them. Because we all know the Reapers don't want to win or anything. Reapers have such big hearts.
The Problem With Indoctrination
I think these people are forgetting the most important aspect of a game: fun. Having fun should be the ultimate end result of any and all aspects of a game. Some games make you think, or try to be innovative, but that's all moot if it isn't fun. Games like Journey do new and interesting things, but they serve the purpose of making the game more fun. Being indoctrinated might sound really profound, but is it fun? No. It has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, has no set-up, no foreshadowing, and no bearing on the events of the plot, both before and after. It's a self-serving red herring that it out-of-place and irrelevant. That isn't fun.
It may sound cool to you, but I think most people just want a complete, coherent story. We don't want to go on a scavenger hunt online just to figure out what in the blazes just happened, and we certainly don't want to wait several months for "The Truth" from downloadable content.
Theorists love to tote this as a "test" for players, but if it is, it's an arbitrary one. If Saren mentioned having a dream about a dead child, maybe we'd have something. To be blunt, it's just not fair. Without the Internet forums, no one would have known about the theory, so really your "resisting Indoctrination" is just a lucky guess. Wow, that's really innovative and ingenious.
The Theory in a Nutshell
The Indoctrination Theory doesn't solve the problem. The only thing the actual ending does right is resolve the central conflict. Other than that, it does nothing an ending is supposed to do. The IT on the other hand, can't even do that. I'm supposed to use my "imagination" and play pretend at what happens next. I know some people might say that's a great thing, but let me go on the record by saying it isn't. If I wanted to picture in my head how something ended, I would make my own story, and wouldn't even bother playing this game in the first place. My imagination isn't nearly as great as witnessing a story, for obvious reasons. Imagine this: You're watching an amazing movie, with an enticing plot and interesting characters. Just before the climax, the screen goes blank, and the words "You do the rest!" pop up on the screen. [Insert innuendo here]
Saying my imagination is better than an actual in-game ending is like saying masturbation is better than actaully having sex.
Picture this: Shortly before reaching Mount Doom, Frodo is assaulted by a random bandit. He is knocked down, and the whole movie ends there. We don't know if he survives the fight with the bandit, or how that had anything to do with The Ring in the first place. That, in a nutshell, is the Indoctrination Theory.
The real problem is that the Indoctrination Theory doesn't actually solve anything. It introduces a new conflict, leaves it unresolved, then forgets entirely about the old one. For all intents and purposes, that makes it little more than a red herring. It switches a complete mess of an ending for an incomplete one. The Theory not only fails resolve the original conflict, but also the random, arbitrary one that it just introduced. This alone makes the original ending marginally better.
It would be nice if more people could resist the Indoctrination Theory, this is getting kinda old.
The LoTR image came from this website: