Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The "Indoctrination Theory" and a Humble Plea

[Or, "The End? Really? Part Two!" Just like in the last post, HUGE SPOILERS LIVE HERE! Just so you know!]

The criticisms haven't ebbed toward the end of "Mass Effect 3"...it's not an inflation of the situation to say that some have stated their entire experience playing the trilogy was ruined by the end of the final chapter. Again, I'm just disappointed, and I'll go further into why, and why so many like me are asking if not outright clamoring for a proper end to things. First, though, I'll go into what someone more eagle-eyed than a lot of us has pinned down as the "Indoctrination Theory". Sigh, this'll take a minute, so sit back as you read...and hopefully, if you've gotten through to the end like I did, you'll understand!

[Also, I'll highlight points you should focus on as you read by putting them in italics!]

It all starts at the start of "Mass Effect 3", when Shepard sees a little boy playing with an Alliance fighter toy on Earth. Not much later, the Reapers arrive and Hell follows with them. Shepard and Anderson make a desperate bid to reach a safe ground. As they go, Shepard sees the same boy as before in a ventilation duct; he/she tries to coax the boy out to take him somewhere safe, but he says "You can't help me." Anderson gets Shepard's attention for a moment, and when he/she turns back to the boy, he's not there anymore. It's like he disappeared. Not long after Shepard and Anderson reach a downed gunship and call for help, the Normandy arrives...Shepard is reinstated by Anderson, who elects to stay behind to lead the local resistance, and orders the Commander to unite the Council races and more to fight the enemy. As the Normandy departs, Shepard sees the same boy in an area where two shuttles have just touched down to evacuate casualties and civilians. He looks up at Shepard fearfully as he gets into one of the shuttles without being helped on or being told to get on, like the others. A Reaper reaches the LZ as the shuttles lift off, and it fires its death beams to destroy both shuttles. Shepard is clearly emotionally affected by this tragic moment, and by leaving Earth altogether when she feels she's needed here the most. Or is it all there is to it?

As the story progresses, Shepard is haunted by a recurring dream we see him/her have three times. The first and second time, he/she sees that same boy in a dark, foreboding forest at night...we control her to chase after him (he's the only bright point of interest in the bleak settings) mostly because, well, it's all we can do! The boy stops, but as Shepard reaches out a hand, the boy is suddenly engulfed in fire as we hear sounds/music similar to what coincided with the Reapers before. The dream fades to black as Shepard watches, horrified. The third time we see Shepard have the dream, just before we reach the home stretch of the story and its climax on and above Earth, he/she chases after the boy...who stops to be embraced by a mirror image of Shepard. Shepard looks at the sight with surprise as he/see sees their mirror and the boy suddenly become alight in flames. Remember when I first thought this was a foreshadowing? Well, I thought the message of the dreams was he/she need not feel guilty any longer, her own time was coming soon. I very likely was wrong, so keep reading!

Shepard's moment of truth arrives as he/she's severely injured and bloody, armed with only a pistol, when she reaches the control core of the Catalyst...a hologram manifests to communicate with Shepard, and it's in the form of the boy. At first, I thought the Catalyst somehow looked into her memories to find an image important to her, but with some thought I had to ask how the hell could even an A.I. do something like that? Anyway, saying its mission has failed with an organic -- Shepard -- reaching it for the first time, the Catalyst presents her with three choices to end the cycle of extinction begun millions of years ago. Shepard could destroy the Reapers and all artificially-created beings...become a Reaper and take control of them...or jump into the high energy fountain in the core to die, yet begin the process of rewriting all life to become like the Reapers, a synthesis of organic and artificial life. I've played only two of the endings, the 'kill the Reapers' and the 'synthesis' finales, but I know one little detail that happens in each one. In the 'synthesis' and 'control' endings, the hologram looks on with what seems to be approval, but in the 'kill the Reapers' ending, when she destroys the conduit and causes the chain reaction to destroy the monsters, the hologram sputters and fades away like a bad TV channel.

Okay, got that? If you need to, read again what I described, especially the italicized parts. In short, according to the "Indoctrination Theory":

The Reapers had begun to attempt to Indoctrinate Shepard since their arrival on Earth, but were only partially successful. The image of the boy appeared to Shepard in the duct, a message from her enemies saying "You can't help me", or in fact, "There's no point in resisting." That's the first clue, especially the fact he disappeared so quickly when Shepard turned away for just a few seconds! Another clue came when the Commander saw the boy and no one helped him onto the shuttle...he just hopped in, none of the soldiers close by helped him in, asked anything (like where his parents were), they didn't do squat...it was like no one saw him there when he arrived and got on the shuttle just before it launched. Shepard was affected, at least in part, because of his/her recurring dream with the boy, which culminates in both Shepard and the boy on fire. We've never seen Shepard dream like this, or at least be so affected by a dream or vision outside of when he/she accessed the Prothean beacons, which also ingrained information into his/her mind. The second and third time she dreams this, additionally, she sees strange smoke-like specters in the forest, whispering. And then the Catalyst taking a holo-form of the boy, that wasn't just a coincidence or mystically reaching into Shepard's mind somehow. When one who knows the mythology of the "Mass Effect" games takes into consideration Indoctrination, that it first affects a victim by altering their perceptions, making them see and hear things not there, it all makes a truly nasty kind of sense, doesn't it?

The Reapers had taken a hard and heavy shot at Indoctrinating Shepard, their greatest enemy, as they invaded the Earth...and the Catalyst, also created by whoever made the Reapers to bring 'order' to the galaxy, sought to complete the job and make him/her do what they wanted.

What they wanted was for Shepard to become a Reaper or initiate synthesis...the LAST thing they would have wanted was for Shepard to destroy them once and for all!

There you go...sorry if I gave anyone a headache.

Taking the "Indoctrination Theory" into account, then: killing the Reapers, the so-called 'renegade' (people call it that mostly because the conduit Shepard destroys was red) option, was the right one, and a big sign of that is it's the only ending where Shepard (barely) survives. But it still leaves a lot unresolved, because no matter how Paragon or Renegade you are, even if you have a fleet that has a strength of over 6000, the Mass Relays are destroyed and Normandy and Shepard's crew and loved ones are still stranded on an unknown world. There's too much left unresolved, such as will Shepard be okay, or will he/she or anyone find the Normandy? It doesn't take much knowledge in storytelling to call that a far-too-open, if not an outright cliffhanger, of an ending. A lot of cinemaphiles say Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" didn't have an ending...gamers said the same thing for "Final Fantasy VII"...but both DID have an ending in comparison to what we've been offered in "Mass Effect 3"! No wonder so many fans are upset and disappointed!

Now, I know Bioware and Electronic Arts are listening to the criticisms of fans in many places, including Facebook. If that's true, then I hope they'll at the very least listen to this humble plea from a fan who's been with the series from the start. I've invested a lot of hours and a fair share of emotion experiencing this saga, and I'm not the only one. So please, Bioware and EA, listen to me when I say this...

I know that games have been rushed before to market, one well-known example being "Halo 2"...they brought it to store shelves admitting that it was incomplete, that they couldn't tell all of the story they wanted in that installment. I also know that the recent trend of downloadable content is a profitable one; "Mass Effect 2" demonstrates that, and the additional characters and adventures you made available. Knowing both of those things, it's my hope that you haven't finished telling the story, that somehow you couldn't finish the game before your intended release date...and you have something in the works, or perhaps already have begun to develop an ending that will satisfy fans, at this time. Make no mistake, fans WILL buy such content if it completes the story in a truly satisfying fashion...I'll buy it, without a doubt!

And I hope it completes the story, taking the rest of this post into consideration, resolving so much...will Shepard be all right, considering this is the last time we'll see him/her, after destroying the Reapers and saving the galaxy? Will he/she have a happy ending with his/her friends and love interest, whoever the gamer chose to be Shepard's one and only, by finding the Normandy? What could happen if Shepard was straight-out Renegade? And after that, maybe Shepard will still have at least one huge decision to make?

Also, I'm a writer...I have some ideas of my own about crafting an ending that folks will want to buy, knowing the story and characters so well. If there's any way that can happen, I can only ask if it's possible, and how I can make it happen. That's my plea...if indeed you've been listening, thank you!

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