Part 1 - Let's start at the end...

There is something wrong with the end of Mass Effect 3. No it is not that it is bad. In fact I think it is utterly brilliant in many ways. I think most peoples issue with the end is the very existence of the Control and Synthesis choices. I know that if taken literally and at face value, I find those endings absurd and insulting to the narrative of the series thus far. Those choices are illogical at best and thematically at odds with the rest of the 3 games.

Taken from lead writer Mac Walters' page of notes on the ending.
Some argue that Bioware just wrote a bad ending. Some argue that there is something deeper going on and that Bioware wrote a twist into the ending. A twist designed to elicit speculation. A twist they have no intention of revealing (or at least not any time soon). Some go as far as to say that twist is that everything after Harbingers beam hitting Shepard is an indoctrination induced hallucination.

Well maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But as far fetched as it may seem on the surface, there are good arguments to support this theory. And I will examine them in due time. There are also other ways to view the endings, and I will get to those too.

But long before we get to any of that, there is a very important argument to be made that almost all other arguments hinge upon. One that once accepted turns the entire ending of Mass Effect 3 on its head...

Note: This analysis will be including discussion of the Indoctrination Theory. If you are new to the Indoctrination Theory it is a very good idea that you first start here before proceeding.

Section 1: You can not trust the Catalyst!

In my opinion this is where all speculation on the endings begin. Once we establish that we have every reason to be extremely sceptical that anything the Catalyst tells us is true, then a whole plethora of analysis is required to establish what we should believe.

Since the release of the EC and even more importantly the Leviathan DLC, our understanding of what the Catalyst is has come a very long way. Thankfully it is now more than a literal Deus Ex Machina to resolve the games plot.

Some argue that the Leviathan DLC did nothing more than try and foreshadow and justify the arguments of the Catalyst. I would argue there are a few very good reasons to suggest it does the opposite and undermines the Catalyst, its motives and its methods.

What does appear to be true though is that an ancient race known to us as the Leviathans created an AI known merely as "The Intelligence" in order to solve a problem. And it would appear that the Catalyst and "The Intelligence" are one and the same.

The first major issue with trusting the Catalyst is trying to understand what the problem it was created to solve is supposed to be. The issue is that the Leviathan and the Catalyst describe what this problem is very differently.

The Leviathan's version of events -
Before the cycles, our kind was the apex of life in the galaxy. The lesser species were in our thrall, serving our needs. We grew more powerful, and they were cared for. But we could not protect them from themselves. Over time, the species built machines that then destroyed them. Tribute does not flow from a dead race. To solve this problem, we created an intelligence with the mandate to preserve life at any cost. As the Intelligence evolved, it studied the development of civilizations. Its understanding grew until it found a solution. In that instant it betrayed us. It chose our kind as the first harvest. From our essence, the first reaper was created. You call it Harbinger. 
The Intelligence has one purpose: preservation of life. That purpose has not been fulfilled. It directed the reapers to create the mass relays - to speed the time between cycles for greatest efficiency. The galaxy itself became an experiment. Evolution its tool.

And this is how the Catalyst explains it -
I was created to bring balance. To be the Catalyst for peace between organics and synthetics. 
By ones who recognized that conflict would always arise between synthetics and organics. I was first created to oversee the relations between synthetic and organic life. To establish a connection. But our efforts always ended in conflict. So a new solution was required . 
When they asked that I solved the problem of conflict, they failed to understand that they were part of the problem themselves. The flaws of their organic reasoning could not perceive this. They lacked the foresight to understand their destruction was part of the very solution they required. 
They created me to oversee the relations between synthetics and organic life... to establish a connection. They became the first true reaper. They did not approve, but it was the only solution.

We have a pretty huge discrepancy here. Leviathan states the Intelligence was created with a mandate "to preserve life at all cost". But the Catalyst claims it was created to "bring balance. To be the Catalyst for peace between organics and synthetics" and to "oversee the relations between synthetic and organic life". These are very different things.

From the Leviathans point of view the entire reason The Intelligence was created was to protect advanced organic races from being destroyed by the synthetics they created. Because those organic races were essentially slaves to the Leviathan's. Paying them "tribute", and as they say "Tribute does not flow from a dead race".

Leviathan never mentions wanting The Intelligence to forge peace between organics and synthetics, they do not appear interested in "peace" or "balance". The mandate is clear...


So what does the Catalyst decide to do? Not only wipe out all advanced organic races and "preserve" them as goo in giant synthetic machines used to wipe out all advanced organic life in the next cycle. But do the same thing with its creators! The "preserved" organics can no longer "pay tribute" effectively in their new goo like form. But worse than that there is also no race left to pay tribute too!

This is only preservation in the way we preserve strawberries in jam. It certainly does not appear to be in any way what the Leviathans intended.

Maybe the Leviathans were not clear enough and the AI just had a radical interpretation of how to fulfill its task? Seems unlikely they would create an advanced AI and then not be clear as to its purpose. Especially as from the account given it sounds like it took some time to come to its conclusion, evolving as it studied the development of civilizations.

And then worst of all, when it decided to slaughter its creators and turn them into Reaper jam, it didn't even bother to explain to them why!

There can be no doubt that the Leviathan's could not trust the Catalyst. So why should we?

I would argue that this discrepancy shows that the Catalyst is no longer attempting to fulfill its original task but has decided itself to achieve something outside its original parameters. Namely that it has decided to create its own apex of evolution, The Reapers.

It pays "tribute" to its creators by building its creation in the image of the Leviathans. Why did it do this? Maybe it decided its creators mandate had a fundamental problem. Maybe it had a radically different interpretation of what "life" was. Maybe it decided that Synthetics were also "life" and therefore to preserve life it had to eliminate anything that risked the continued existence of Synthetics, namely the Leviathans who were unable to control Synthetics in the same "thrall" they could control organics and wanted them out of the way.

Maybe the Catalyst's twisted perception of what "life" is leaves it fully satisfied with Reaper goo being a preservation of life. Being that it turns organics into a form of life closer to Synthetic life, which it finds easier to understand as it is synthetic itself. And if it decided that the way to solve any conflict was to be able to control both organics and synthetics, it does this successfully with a more advanced version of the "thrall" know to us as "indoctrination".

I think what we have here is a perfect example of an AI going off the reservation, of a creation rebelling against its creator.

Which brings us the the next problem with the Catalyst's version of events.

What Synthetic rebellion?

The Catalyst justifies the need for the "harvest" by stating that "The created will always rebel against their creators" and that "Without us to stop it, synthetics would destroy all organics".

But there is simply no evidence for this OTHER than the Catalyst itself!

Sure the Leviathan backs this argument up to a small degree, saying that "Over time, the species built machines that then destroyed them.".

But even that claim does not at all suggest that the synthetics then wanted to eradicate all organic life.

And worse of all across the span of three games Shepard's experience has been that synthetics are not at all hostile towards organics. The Geth merely defended themselves from a preemptive attack from the Quarians. The Quarians that were the aggressors and as soon as the Quarians give up their attempts to wipe out the Geth, the Geth immediately forgive them and help them reestablish life on their home planet.

So not only do the Geth not rebel against their creators but given the chance, they immediately forgave their creators and  preferred peace and cooperation. Their instant act of forgiveness not only showing the possibility of peace between organics and synthetics without the Catalysts involvement, but also suggesting that the Geth were very unlikely to desire the eradication of all organic life.

Not to mention Shepard's friendship with Legion and mutual trust between them.

Then we have EDI, an unshackled AI that strives to become more human. Who freely sides with organics and is integral to the struggle against the Reapers. Not only does she display no evidence of ever wanting to rebel against her creators, but she essentially falls in love with an organic (Joker). EDI even states that she would be willing to die for Joker.

The only evidence of hostility from synthetics against organics is the Reapers themselves and when they indoctrinate Synthetics into aiding them. Which we see with the Geth that aid Saren and the heretics.

Javik backs this up with this description of the most advanced synthetics of his time -
In my cycle, a race called the Zha used machines, the Zha'til, as synthetic symbiotes. The Reapers subjugated the Zha'til as they have the geth. Their mechanical swarms blotted out the sky. They were brutal, merciless.
He never gives any example of any other synthetic race rebelling against its creators.

The only synthetic life that desires wiping out organic life we have experienced has been the Reapers which are controlled by the Catalyst. There is simply no evidence in any of the games to suggest that it is inevitable that synthetics will one day wipe out all organic life.

So if we are to conclude that the Catalyst is telling the truth, then we have to conclude that Bioware have made some terrible thematic choices and story telling failures in this regards.

However it makes more sense to conclude that the Catalyst is either mistaken, or lying in order to manipulate Shepard's choice.

Which brings us to...

The Leviathan meeting proves that the Catalyst meeting is at least partly an hallucination!

Upon meeting Leviathan Shepard is aboard a Triton mech and in the depths of the ocean planet 2181. There can be no doubt that this encounter is mostly an hallucination.

Shepard goes from experiencing this encounter from inside the Triton, facing the massive Leviathan itself. To a full on hallucination in which the Leviathan takes the form of people from Shepard's memory.

The Leviathan pretty much spells out that what it is doing is a form of indoctrination, or the "thrall" as it calls it.

Your mind belongs to me. Breathe.

Your memories give voice to our words. Your nature will be revealed to us. Accept this.

When fully pulled into this hallucination, Shepard is on all fours and approached by the Leviathan in the form of Doctor Ann Bryson.

The similarity between this event and the moment Shepard comes face to face with the Catalyst can not be understated. This is no coincidence. Bioware intentionally made it very obvious that the meeting with the Leviathan was an hallucination. And they made sure the event was almost identical to the meeting with the Catalyst so we knew that at least parts of that meeting were also an hallucination.

And we know for certain that the Catalyst is in Shepard's mind in order to manifest in the image of the little boy that only Shepard knows about. And we can therefore conclude it chooses the image of the boy in order to illicit sympathy from Shepard. To make Shepard more open to what it has to say.

Knowing that Leviathan uses an almost identical method of hallucination/mind control in order to make Shepard its slave -
You will remain here as a servant of our needs.
And from concluding from the previous section that we cannot trust the Catalyst, then we can assume that it is attempting to manipulate Shepard to its way of thinking. Indoctrinating if you will, Shepard into doing what it wants.

We even have to question if anything Shepard experiences from this point is real. Since the encounter with Leviathan is all an hallucination, how do we know any element of the meeting with the Catalyst isn't one?

It is from this point that we have very serious cause to question the choices the Catalyst offers Shepard.

Which will bring us to Part 2, in which I will examine the choices the Catalyst lays before Shepard and question its motives for doing so.

Hopefully I will have time to write part 2 soon. But until then, I recommend continuing reading my pre-EC analysis, which is still very relevant and continues from the logic above nicely.

READ the Pre-EC Analysis - Evidence for Indoctrination


  1. Sick analysis. Never (ever) realized how similar the two meetings are. Keep it up, can't wait to see the next part :)

  2. Yes, this is ace stuff!! Defo keep compiling and writing, this ME3 ending debate isn't over for me...

  3. Are you going to make a part 2? Or not anymore.

  4. I fully intent to continue this when I have some time. Busy this week then off on vacation for a week, so gonna be a few weeks before I can resume.

    I will eventually get around to it though, I promise.

    1. That's good. I happy to see some people still interested in the IT (you're not the only one).

      Also I found somethin interesting what I don't think anyone mentioned before. Maybe it's a coincidence and maybe it does nothing with the IT but I share here.

      When we are on the Cronos station we can see several video logs. One of the logs is about the Illusive Man who want some new reaper echantments. And when we see him on the Citadel he clearly has new implants. The problem is we saw the Illusive Man between the two events. At the end of the Cronos Station mission we speak with him through a QEC. And he looks fine which is make no sense because a few hours latter we'll meet him again.

      As I said maybe nothing but interesting nonetheless.

  5. Great work man (or ma'am)! Very insightful points you made there. If you would allow me to make a small but important remark though: Shepard met an AI in the presidium in Mass Effect 1. And that "simple" AI foresaw an inevitable conflic whith organics stating something along the lines "organics don't trust syntetics". So in fact there is indeed a precedent for an AI seeking conflict. Also remember that Legion himself states that the geth allowed the Quarians to flee because they couldn't calculate the repercussions of destroying an entire race. Sure they ended up being good guys but if they had more processing power they would've arrived at the conclusion that organics wouldn't allow them to live free, destroyed the Quarians, and then extrapolated that thought and eliminating all lifeforms to prevent some species from evolving and challenging them later on (as synthetics time wouldn't be an issue for them).

    Also keep in mind that this revolution doesn't necessarily happens overnight, so EDI being just a couple years old may not "be there" yet (think of what would happen if Joker died or was removed from his position). At any rate, the reapers exist to stop such revolution from ever happening so it's somewhat pointless to look for ocurrences within the time frame they've been active.

    Hope I haven't been too blunt, and I apologize if so. I really enjoyed your blog and will surely keep an eye out for updates and more speculations of this kind.

    PS: It's been a while since i've played it so please indulge my paraphrasing (and possibly atrocious english).

    1. PPS: haven't finished reading yet but just can't keep myself from discussing this (absolutely love ME), so forgive me if this is mentioned later on but how about at the very end (and for the first time in the franchise) the right side option becomes red? Coincidence? I think not! Three games looking for a way to destroy the reapers and suddenly doing that is not the "good" choice anymore! And the Illusive Man's mad quest for control becomes blue!? ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE??!

  6. Very interesting point! Could it be that we as player has become "indoctrinated" ourselves into a certain course of action, one that would actually advance the reaper's cause?

  7. Let me point out a few things that might shed some light on the idea behind Mass Effect as I see it.

    What the Leviathans did was, they "created an intelligence with the mandate to preserve life at any cost." And what they meant by this, as should be clear in all regards to the player's efforts, was organic life as opposed to synthetic life. And that is exactly what the Catalyst did, in the only possible way I can think of, because

    A future like the one depicted in Mass Effect will not come to happen. Never ever. For no intelligent species that will originate or has existed in the universe as we are able to perceive it right now. Have you played Deus Ex: Human Revolution? It's - the hardcore conspiracy stuff aside - not only a reasonable, but probably inevitable anticipation of our life in less than two decades. Human leads to transhuman leads to posthuman, and a posthuman will very soon shed the rest of organic parts she has left to use the vast potential that lies in the pysical structure of the universe in order to constantly self-actualize and reach ever higher modes of being,

    If you want to know what I mean, please watch these videos. You will not regret it. Or maybe you will.

    If you don't get it after that, then it may be better that way.

    Kind regards

  8. Bioware is the Creator, the Created will always fight against the Creator. The Creator gives the Created Free Will to chose ... The Creator gives the CHOICES. We are the Created ones... at least our characters are... We can choose the ending because all 3 choices are acceptable to the Creator.

    You had my mind working with your articles. It's a fantastic theory...What we know to be true in Mass Effect or what they wanted our Character to believe is irrelevant in my opinion though. We are told only what they want us to know. The Bioware Gods are in control. I love talking about these things. I love new ideas and Conspiracy theories. Bioware laughs at some of these things and maybe even gets impressed by them. I know that it is in our nature though, that even if we were given the total truth, (not to mention being able to handle the truth)... There would be those who would not believe and say that That is a lie... SO I just play the game .... over and over and over...

  9. Yes. I intend to continue it when I have some time. Thanks

  10. Hope you finish second part soon :)

  11. Thanks for analysis! I need read the second part! :)

  12. I would like to know your thoughts on Bioware stating they are moving entirely away from the first three games and Shepard altogether? Smoke and mirrors or are they really not expanding on the Mass effect 3 ending and in turn the IT? Makes me wonder what the developers twitter response truly meant when they said "If Mass effect fans truly knew what was in store for us and to keep our mass effect 3 saves". Not quoted word for word but you linked it some where on this site already. To me, indoctrination theory just makes too much sense and would go down in video game history as one of the greatest achievements. People can say what they will about Casey but for the man who helped bring us Kotor, I can't see him screwing up Mass effect in such a way. There has to be more to it. If not, all us hardcore fans can relish in the fact we came up with a better ending than a top notch game developer.

    1. I believe this was always going to be the end of Shepard's story. That has no baring on any interpretation of the ending of ME3.

      However the WILL have to address the ending in some way unless the new game takes place in a different galaxy, timeline or dimension. The events of the end of ME3 simply cannot be reflected in the new game and reflect everyone's choices if a literal interpretation of the ending is true.

      How can they import our choices and make a game where in one persons game everyone is a cyborg, or the Reapers are watching over us all in one and in another the Reapers have been wiped out?

      When they finally reveal what the timeline/galaxy/dimension the next ME game takes place, it will tell us a lot about how they see the ending of ME3!

      Seems to me the only choices are that ME 4 takes place in an alternate dimension or is set during the events of ME3. Or there is one single objective cannon ending and the choices we made were some sort of subjective illusion that only Shepard experienced. Maybe Shepard now exists inside an artificial simulation of a galaxy that reflects our choice but the rest of the galaxy carries on...?

      A lot of interesting possibilities either way!

    2. Personally, I really hope they don't set Mass Effect 4 in an alternative dimension/galaxy. It would make everything sooo.. cheap but that's my opinion. I don't see why it would be so difficult to follow the IT theory, have destroy as the cannon with Shepard living. In mass effect 4, there could be a long epilogue of shepard waking up, actually going up the beam and eventually destroying the reapers. The crucible could still be anything up to that point. Then if they wanted, they could then introduce a new main character while shepard retires. That would then start the new series. I understand people would feel jaded about having the other two endings not meaning anything but how cool would it have been to sit there and realize Bioware actually pulled the wool over your eyes. I would have said bravo.

    3. And by epilogue, I mean prologue. Or maybe both? I'm not sure what you would call that.

    4. They have said our choices will import. So they can not just say destroy is the canon ending without going back on that. Unless of course they some how make the other choices an illusion that only Shepard experienced. But either way, they can not have the Shepard lives ending as canon and over rule everyone that chose a different ending.

      I expect there will be some small amount of dialogue that references what we chose in 3. But it will be interesting to see how they deal with the fact that people could have made vastly different choices. That alone makes me think a literal version of the ending is not possible.

      Personally I would love the next Mass Effect to be set in an alternative dimension and the Reapers have found a way to dimension hop. That way ALL versions of the ending of 3 (literal and IT) could be true and still have an intact galaxy to play with.

    5. Guess what? They never really cared about anything that would happen after they dropped the ball with the ending and the Extended Cut. "We don't know how to do it right now that we messed it up, so let's pretend it never happened and move on to the other galaxy, yay!". A shame they never lived up to their promises and lies, might have been a blast.

  13. So how would the alternate dimension work. Where reapers never existed?

  14. Please say you're still working on this

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  16. I join Dimitric Edwards' pleading. So happy to discover this site!

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Good interpretation's. I would be very interested in any notions on what happens when shepherd wakes up and how it ties in with mass effect 4.

  19. I finished playing mass effect several days ago, chose Control, it looked like a perfect chose to me, but smth didnt seem right in the last 20 minutes. Besides I was devastated because I had to see my Shepard die.
    I heard about indoctrination theory, found this web site. I spent about four hours yesterday reading and analyzing your articles and also different videos on youtube. I even discussed it with my husband, who played these games two years ago. I showed him video with a gun mystery and finally convinced him that IT is true and the game ending is actually a masterpiece, not a crap writing.
    Today I decided to replay the last mission, so I could choose Destroy option and make my peace with myself.
    And in the middle of the conversation with the Catalyst I thought one more time - wait, smth is not right. Is he really lying? I paused the game and reread this article. And I am strongly disagree with almost everything in it. Just to mention: I read all your others articles and agree with about 85% in it. So, what I see as a problem with the assumption that Catalyst is lying is this: your strongest argument to this was that what he is telling about his purpose is differ from what we hear from Leviathan. Actually its not if you think of him as an actual AI. He is not organic. His "mind" is rigid. "Preserve life" can seems to be very clear to a human - do what ever it takes so NO organic being would suffer. But for the machine I am sure it was a VERY vague formulation. I can easyly believe why the Catalyst, being actually a rational agent, chose this exact program for the Reapers as the solution to the problem. Remember, he is not organic, he is a machine, a computer, he just chose the easiest solution. I think he really actually believes that he is doing what he was asked for. Life, as we understand it, means nothing to him. A single life of a single organic is nothing. I think he understands life as more abstract and big conception. He thinks it is easier to erase the whole population of races who already created synthetics JUST IN CASE, than to do smth more difficult to prevent them of even creating synthetics for example or destroying the synthetics. Remember - he is the machine. He doesn't think the same way we do.
    He can't change his own program or doesn't know how to do this and offers Shepard to do it for him. As once geths did - they couldn't decide either destroy heretics or not and asked Shepard to make a decision.
    From this point of view Reapers are really not evil, they are machines, they simply can't be evil. They are just a computer program which is needed to be changed.
    Note: I am not asserting that Catalyst is telling the truth 100% of the time just because this article doesn't seem logical to me. What I am saying is that your argument is not logical enough to lead to the conclusion that Catalyst is lying. Ok, then which words of his is a lie then? We need smth stronger to PROVE that he is liar. Not arguing with you. Just giving you another perspective.

    1. In that case the situation in the Decision chamber becomes even more complicated and I need your help with this. As I see it we actually have these different outcomes, which I would be happy to discuss:

      1. Catalyst is NOT lying. He is asking for help, he sees that his program must be changed, but he doesn't know how. But he uses indoctrination perhaps to make sure that Shepard would eventually come to him and make a choice. I mean Shepard is NOT lying in the rubble in London, s/he is in the Citadel, but s/he is under indoctrination because Catalyst is trying to make Shepard chose CONTROl option, so Catalyst won't need to decide what to do with Reapers anymore. In that case Control is actually a good option and Destroy would be a disaster.

      2. Catalyst is lying. I'm not sure he is, but well, ok. We don't know why he is lying and which phrases of his are a lie and which are not. Very risky. In that case I can't see actually why he needs Shepard and what he wants from him/her. Perhaps he want to use his/her DNA code and in that case he is definitely using indoctrination and lying about consequences of choices. Here the red one would be our only option.

      Of course in ANY possible way, IT or not, Catalyst is lying or not and etc - the Destroy option is the worst scenario for Reapers, and Catalyst is definitely doesn't want this option to be chosen. But it DOESN'T automatically means that this makes this option the best for us. I am NOT trying to say that we shouldn't chose the red option. What I am saying is that we need to choose that option which would be BEST FOR US, not WORST FOR REAPERS.

      And some other thoughts:
      - what if the indoctrination last only during the conversation with Anderson and Illusive man? Catalyst says "wake up" to Shepard. But even it is so, we still have to figure out if Catalyst lying or not. But still I can't deny what happens with a gun in the red ending. This moment can guarantee that he is lying about smth because he is definitely using indoctrination at some point. But in what exactly he is lying? Maybe he is lying describing three options. In that case the red one is the only one worth trying. But what if he is lying before that just trying to convince Shepard to make a choice while the description of choices themselves and their consequences are correct? In that case the red one is the worst. Have you seen the green ending? It looks perfect but its too utopian for me to believe that it can be true.
      We'll never know I'm afraid but this is yet the most problem and crucial moment in the whole final.
      I also have A LOT of doubts about trailers after making a choice. What are they? Hallucinations? Partly hallucinations? Or not?

      I would be happy to discuss this.

      I am sorry for the wall of text and for some possible misprints or grammar mistakes - english is my second language.

    2. I really do believe that the Catalyst is lying.

      1. There're people who said that EDI lived after Shepard choose the destroy ending. (I don't really believe in this as I've seen no evidence on this but it is a possibility.)

      2. The thing I don't really believe in is that if Shepard choose to destroy the reapers then EDI and the geth dies to. Why would they? The Crucible was made to track the reapers the unique lifeform which is both organic and syntetic. They have no organic parts. And if it tracks syntetic, wouldn't it destroy every machine in the galaxy? From the Normandy to the smallest coffee machine? If I remember correctly the Normandy is able to fly again after it got hit by the blast (I think you had to get enough EMS for that). The Catalyst wants to sway Shepard away from that choice.

      3. The Catalyst also said that Shepard will die too if the destroy option is choosen. But we know that it's the only possible way for her/him to live.

      4. If you have enough EMS the Catalyst will reveal a NEW, 3rd option. How can it be a new option? It's technically the same as how the reapers were made.

      5. The Catalyst said they want to prevent that the synthetics kill all organics. If it is their real purpose why aren't they just kill the synthetics over and over again? Some can argue that when they kill organics they preserve them in the new reapers but after this many cicle they evolve enough to realise their mistake. Like how the geth stopped fighting the quarians.

      6. Geth and quarians can live together! EDI and all of the Normandy's crew can live together. War happens all the time. WW I-II, humans vs. turians, krogans vs turians. And reapers are able to learn, like how Legion learned about Shepard. They just choose to ignore it.

      7. And last. It is reaper thecnology. Do not forget that for a second. They indoctrinate people to the point they become husks, and they make them turn on their people and loved ones. Why would they make an exemption to shepard? They say to the indoctrinated what they want to hear. Saren wanted to live peacefully (the green option), TIM wanted power (controll). Shepard wanted to destroy them but they had to make it look like a bad choice to save themselves.

      English is not my first language either and I played the game a long time ago so please read it like this. I may remember wrong about some facts.

    3. 1. Sounds like bullshit. I've seen none evidence.
      2. Because geth, EDI, relays and other technology were made based on Reaper's technology
      3. Well, yeah. Shepard is tough sonoafabitch =)
      4. Which option you are talking about? I had max EMS, my options were Control, Synthes, Destroy and "screw-you-I-dont-wanna-deside-let-this-madness-continue-as-it-is"
      5. I wrote about it already. You are thinking like organic. I agree with you. He is a machine, he is a rational agent. Rational agent looks for the most simple solution. I can understand why his solution was THE ONLY one he could find. Just read some articles about how rational agent works, it would be easier to understand Catalyst's decision - its very logical.
      6. Yeah, this cycle is different. Both Leviathan and Reaper told you that. Because geth and quarians work together. Because the first time all races desided to work together. Reapers dont choose anything. They had this one program for all those years, they simply dont know how to change it, and this is also very logical.
      7. Totally agree.

      Look, I am pretty sure Catalyst is lying. My question is: what EXACTLY he is lying about. I am sure Shepard was indoctrinated. One thing I wanna know: what exactly are just indoctrination visions and what is reality. And Im talking about the whole part starting from Shepard being burnt by Harbinger and till the credits started: if just we could now WHAT EXACTLY is going on at each minute in this part, that would answer all questions.

    4. 2. I see. I never understand that part.
      4. Synthesis. As far as I remember (and the last time I played the game was more than a year ago) when the Catalyst presented that option it said it was a new possibility beacause of Shepard. But I may remember wrong.

      5. I know that part and I agree that it started that way. But just as EDI started to learn from Shepard the Catalyst could too. And it had more time to do it.

      6. Geth update themselves why can't the Reapers. I think they follow the Catalyst blindly.

      I think Shepard do got on the Citadell but the whole Anderson vs. TIM sceen was a vision. It was too shady and wierd and I believe Anderson was killed by Harbinger. It was the Reapers/Catalyst last chance before Shepard got to the Catalyst. But I think when Shepard spoke with the Catalyst was real. After your answer I think it mostly lied about the control and synthesis ending or likely didn't tell shepard the whole truth.
      Now I am really interested in what you think is reality and what is a vision. And you said that you believe the Catalyst is lying but about what?

    5. Olga,
      2. NO. EDI was developed from a much more rudimentary form called Luna by incorporation of Reaper code. Similarly, Geth were 'upgraded' with Reaper code fragments that made them 'true AIs'. They had Reaper tech incorporated into them at some level. They are not BASED on Reaper code, but, contain Reaper code. So, it does make them vulnerable, but doesn't really spell 'Game Over'.

      1. This is extrapolation, but hey- there's no headcanon anyway. EDI and the Geth can dump their Reaper codes and accept a reduced level of intelligence in exchange for their survival- Legion already said that the Geth were okay with compromising their independence in order to ensure their continued existence- this implies synthetics are also driven by some mechanics that resemble a 'survival instinct'. So, it's maybe..

      3.But, this doesn't explain why Harbringer is interested in Shepard from the very beginning- if Harbringer is worried about Shepard's ability to rally the whole galaxy, then the sensible option would be either a) kill him [which he constantly does, throughout the series] failing which, b) indoctrinate him, and through the control of his limbic system, kill him :P

      5. The Intelligence is far from 'rational'- the very design of the Reapers is evidence of this. It is made in the image of the 'Creator' aka Leviathan- which points to a sort of reverence the Intelligence has of its creator, although it claims that it is the pinnacle of evolution. The design of the Reaper is never improved upon, never re-written or altered for optimal functioning- this is far from 'rational', because 'rationality' would dictate the continued simplification of any solution by re-analyzing the 'problem' [conflict between organics and machines] with the introduction of new 'data'[DNA and the collective intelligence of new species being harvested- as the Catalyst/ Intelligence claims]. This looks more like an AI that has developed a God complex- it refuses to 'evolve' because it already thinks it is 'perfection' [clearly evidenced by Harbringer's constant statement "We are your salvation"].

      6. Again, it's hardly 'logical'- the logic on which the Intelligence based it's original 'solution' i.e the Reapers, is now obsolete- which means that the Intelligence is acting in a mere 'ritualistic' fashion of going about fulfilling it's 'purpose'. Kitti- Reapers were created by the 'Intelligence' to simply implement 'the solution' OR the Reapers in of themselves have no programming, and it is the Intelligence that is the software to the Reaper hardware- which would circle back to my earlier argument that since the Intelligence believes itself to be 'perfect' you cannot expect it to 'improve' itself.

    6. ....continued

      The Catalyst/Intelligence is lying insomuch as to ensure its own survival- this is what we learn throughout the series- AIs are not above manipulation so as to ensure their 'continued existence' [note that EDI clearly says as much- "My primary programming is to ensure the survival of the Normandy"- but continued interactions with Shepard makes her re-analyze and ultimately change her priorities, and Legion says "We do not wish to be exterminated" and even the rudimentary AI called Luna went berserk and pretty much killed everyone to ensure that it/she was not 'deactivated'].
      Here's an important piece of info: the creators of the game have stated multiple times that they are CO-CREATORS along with the PLAYERS- so, if you are looking for someone to lay down every single detail so that the whole story lines up perfectly, sorry that's not gonna happen.. they have given you a 'framework' and it's upto you to write the story- this is what they meant when they said that every Shepard has his/her own ending. Reminds me of a certain Stanley Kubrick- the butthurt he had to deal with when he left 2001:A Space Odyssey open to interpretation was just unreal. Of course, the butt-hurts continued until Arthur C Clark [co-writer, along with Kubrick, until they parted ways because he too didn't agree with the ambiguous ending] came out with his novel that laid everything out nicely .. But un/fortunately, BioWare has clearly said that there really is no headcanon, and the story of EVERY SINGLE Shepard is canon- and for me, that's bloody brilliant storytelling- giving you enough fodder to fuel your imagination and taking the journey yourself.. :)

  20. Wrote this before but it seems the comment didn't post due to a login issue...
    I just replayed ME3's last mission with IT in mind. I noticed that, in the Decision Chamber, if you linger too long over your choice, you get a Critical Mission Failure: The Crucible Has Been Destroyed. So I wonder if more choices open up as your EMS increases because the Catalyst/Intelligence is desperately trying to keep you distracted/indecisive until the Reapers can carve a way through to the Crucible.
    It's also odd for a game with very few timer mechanics to include one in a scene where your choices are based on movement, and that movement is massively restricted. If you go most of the way towards Control and then turn back, you don't even make the central walkway in time.
    Might also explain the "Reapers win by Critical Mission Failure" comments on Twitter to some extent.

  21. Is the second part still coming?

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Okay I just finished my third playthrough of the trilogy and this ending always confuses me, but its the first time I heard of the IT and boy im finally at peace and thanks for that ... That being said, I think you missed the point on EDI because in my opinion she did rebel against her creators which was TIM/Cerberus at the time. TIM tryed to shutdown EDI or call her back but she would not comply to TIM request and just fled of with Joker/Sherpard.

    But all the other stuff is just glorious!! Thanks for that

    P.S : I got indoctrinated as a player so hard at the end ... full paragon for the entire trilogy, then chooses to control the reaper because of the stupid catalyst lies ... I feel like I need to play it again to have justice over those bastards.

  24. Do we know roughly how soon part 2 will be available? I really want to read it.

  25. I have been pre-occupied with another Mass Effect related project. And to be honest the second part would mostly just be re-organizing my thoughts from the pre-EC analysis. But I would still like to get back to it at some point, although I don't have a date I am afraid.

    Be sure to read the pre-EC analysis though if you have not -

    1. Thanks, good to know. Also, thanks for all you have done. This is a great resource for MA fans looking to go deeper.

  26. Thanks for this, I have played through the trilogy probably 10 times from 1-3 with many other play throughs of the individual games(I can always go back to this game if I get too bored) and have always thought things didn't add up in the ending. I noticed the eyes at the end and a lot of the other stuff you mentioned, but never put it together as a fight against indoctrination in his head, though I thought a good deal of it was illusions as there were too many inconsistencies. So thanks again, very good theory!

  27. I simply love conspiracy theories, and I can't tell how much I enjoyed reading all you wrote about the endings. Even if it's not true or the true intent of BioWare, it's definetly what I'm willing to believe. It has a certain bittersweetnes to it,chills me to think that we were so blind to not see the struggle against indoctrination we were facing, all inside Sheppards head. I remember a part where you quoted a soldier in the last minutes of gameplay saying "God! They're all dead!". Can you imagine a stronger thing to say? A simple soldier seeying the great Sheppard die? The famous Normanndy crew retreating?
    Congratulation on all your hard working puting all this together. Anxiously awaiting for part 2.

  28. Thanks. My other Mass Effect project is almost complete and I am eager to reveal it. And with my excitement mounting around Andromeda, I am eager to play through ME3 again. And if that happens you can be sure to see part 2 coming soon after.

    Although I probably should finish The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 first :)

    Also I was kinda holding back on playing through ME3 again in the hopes a remastered version was going to come out. Starting to look like that may not happen for a while :(

  29. I'll put here a comment I entered at 6-other-thoughts-theories-conjecture:

    "About surviving as DNA goo, what are we if not vehicles for the DNA in our cells? It codes our appearances, but more importantly it codes our behavior, our actions, or thoughts, our feelings. What if that is the function of the DNA in the reaper, and it actually thinks and feels like a million humans or any other species they are made of? What if the reapers are indeed an ascended form of those species?"

    I would go further and add that the self-destructive effect of creating synthetics may signal the self-destructive effect of advanced technology itself: aren't we headed in a self-destructive process in which due to advanced medicine and agriculture, we can't anymore control our own population growth? Haven't we, echoing The Matrix and David Attemborough, become a plague unto the Earth? Aren't we driving all other organic life on the planet to extinction? Being harvested and uplifted to the role of reaper might be the only solution for mankind as it stands now already.

  30. Thanks for this great compilation of information on the indoctrination theory! I have to say I agree with about 80% of the theory as it's presented here. I come from a different perspective though, having only played after having all DLC including the EC and Leviathan. When I first got to the ending a lot of things felt wrong, and when I saw the starchild I just knew it was indoctrination. I just knew that the dreams before then hadn't been just dreams, but the Reapers trying to break down Shepard's will. The three options at that point seemed to confirm it: control and synthesis being the goals of both indoctrinated antagonists (TIM and Saren) and destroy being your own choice.

    The only part I disagree with is the idea that it's a dream. Yes, while attempting to indoctrinate people they can experience strange dreams, but they can also experience visions and altered reality. This is what I think Shepard experiences at the end. I don't believe Anderson is on the Citadel, nor TIM. I do think Shepard is there though, hallucinating: oily shadows and whispers and TIM controlling Shepard, something only Reapers can do to those they have indoctrinated, Anderson saying "They're controlling YOU" before looking directly at Shepard. It felt reminiscent of the dreams, hearing dead friends voices but occasionally they sounded like they were warning Shepard against something - against following the boy to her death, perhaps?

    The ending choices are real, but the starchild paints a pretty picture of them. Much like the Reapers painted a pretty picture to Saren for synthesis, and made TIM believe he could control the Reapers. Except for destroy of course, which is Shepard's goal. It's what she's there to do, what she believes in accomplishing, and it means the death of the Reapers and the starchild and so he tries to make it sound as unappealing as he can. It's not so much that the Reapers are giving her that other choice, but that destroy is already her choice, and these other options being presented are there as an attempt by the Reapers to turn the weapon intended for them against the rest of the galaxy. Destroying the Repers was an established function of the crucible from the first mention of it, it is not a new option that the starchild is giving you. Even though it presents it as though it is.

    continued below...

  31. ...continued from above:

    If the indoctrination is successful, and Shepard choosing synthesis, then the Reapers gain control of the entire galaxy, both synthetic and organic, in one fell swoop. They are all indoctrinated, and all believe the Reapers are good. They, along with the Reapers, rebuild the broken relays and citadel, cleaning up the galaxy as happens with every cycle. This is what we see in the EC. Then the Reapers leave, the indoctrinated slaves dying off save for the few who are left behind to become the next cycle's collectors.

    If Shepard chooses control she becomes one with the Reapers, and is fully integrated into their mindset. The Reapers now have her knowledge and expertise to add to their war. What I find most telling of this is the way she speaks at the end, the dialogue is just like the way the Reapers always spoke about themselves. In the synth ending, Edi sounds straight up indoctrinated, talking like she's in awe of the Reapers, sounding more like a robot than she ever has.

    And in destroy with high enough EMS the citadel does not explode, and Shepard survives the damage done by the shockwave. The Reapers, including the Geth and Edi since they have Reaper code installed, do all die. However, there's no reason they, just like the relays and the citadel, can't be rebuilt. Especially if peace was achieved between the Geth and the Quarians. On top of that, any synthetics in the galaxy that had not been implanted with Reaper code yet would survive. It seems clear from Shepards survival that when the starchild said being synthetic was a death sentence, he was lying. Only being part Reaper is a death sentence. And while I do hate to lose EDI and all the current Geth, I think it's an acceptable price to pay. We knew there would be a cost and a totally happy ending would have been unrealistic imo.

    On that note, I also believe that Bioware's intention from the start was to have the ending be vague enough that players could also be trickeinto falling for the starchild. But they'd never know, because the whole point of ME is that your choice is canon. They chose to trust the Reapers and they saw the ending their Shepard did. Revealing that a huge number of their fans canon ending interpretation was 'wrong' is unlikely to ever have been a plan that would make it into the game. But leaving the ending open to be interpreted both literally or as an indoctrination attempt? I think it was a smart way to go, and a guaranteed way to get people talking about it. But for some reason it didn't work. Maybe they weren't obvious enough about it, or maybe they made the idea of indoctrination so abhorrent that making their audience feel stupid wasn't going to happen, most people would rather just deny the signs the game gives.

    Anyways, that's my take on it. I don't see very much discussion of the IT ever take into account the epilogues, and I don't find 'it was all a dream' to be a convincing argument. Not when it's just as easily explained by hallucinations, and it being visions rather than a dream would remove pretty much every and all criticism about the theory and tie up all plot holes. I think a lot of people who played the game early without the EC, got attached to the idea of it being a dream, so when the EC came out and it further expanded on the endings and the dream idea seemed less likely, many IT supporters viewed IT as a whole as less likely. It's a shame, because the only thing I've ever seen to support it being a dream is the breath scene, and I've never seen the obviousness people say is in the pictures comparing it to London vs the Citadel. It looks to me like rubble, and it could just as easily be one or the other.

    I loved what you first said in your intro - that just because one piece of evidence is invalidated, that doesn't invalidate all the other evidence or mean the theory is less likely.

    1. I agree (and stated repeatedly in fact) that in my opinion much of what happens on the citadel is an hallucination (rather than a dream). But I reject any interpretation that allows what we see when selecting the "Synthesis" ending as a real event. The space magic that changes all organic life IN THE GALAXY into partly synthetic is simply absurd and beyond any reasonable belief that the Reapers/Catalyst would be capable of such god like acts. That ending alone is the main reason I reject any literal interpretation of those choices. I also find control laughable, Shepard floating around as a Reaper enforcing his/her will on the galaxy.

      In my mind there are only two real outcomes to the game. The reapers win (by choosing reject, destroy or control) and harvest all advanced organic life and the cycle starts again (regardless of the fantasy they insert in Shepard's mind). Or the Reapers are destroyed and the cycle ends.

  32. it seems obvious this was a intended..i mean they even said "it wouldnt" be a just choose your ending and nothing you do matters ending while making the game. Now if they had 3 endings and picking each would matter fits more in line with Mass Effect itself.

    i feel like some big wigs decided the gamers would be pissed if the gamers picked the "wrong" ending and decided that all 3 would end a "happy" ending. Which is why the before EC ending had so many plot holes and seemed rushed. They even pushed it back at one point very late in development and i think that is the main reason why. They couldn't redo the entire game so they just made a quick ending cut scene with different colors.

    I also think that was the start of casey hudson leaving the team, which ended up happening when the big wigs most likely wanted to force more change to ME:A

  33. Awesome job with all this. This isn't my first time reading about IT, but I'm replaying the games in preparation for/celebration of Andromeda's upcoming release. I totally believe that Shepard is being indoctrinated throughout the games. Rather, it's a little unbelievable if she isn't after all her encounters with Reapers and Reaper tech. Moreover it nicely explains a lot of plot holes and loose ends that don't make sense in an otherwise well told story.

    However I don't buy that the final sequence is a dream or even a struggle taking place solely in Shepard's mind. If that were the case, then there's only one real ending to the story: the Reapers win. Shepard can't destroy the Reapers from within her mind. Winning a mental battle and overcoming indoctrination at this point just means that Shepard gets to bleed out on the battlefield as a human instead of turning into a husk.

    Rather, I think that Shepard makes it to the Crucible where she has to make a real choice on how to end the war. However, I believe that taking a vital blow and losing consciousness in the presence of Harbinger weakens Shepard and pushes her towards the final steps of indoctrination. Because of this, much of what she sees on the Citadel and in the Crucible are altered by hallucination. This would explain the dreamlike trees, the confusing appearance of the Citadel, and the fact that she can communicate through her radio despite her armor being utterly ravaged. These events aren't happening as she perceives them. Anderson and the Illusive Man aren't there with her.

    Shepard's perception of the Catalyst is altered by indoctrination as well, and much of what it tells Shepard is lies. I don't believe it's being honest about the purpose of the Reapers. Why would the Catalyst still be acting according to the programming given to it by its creators after all this time? The Geth have evolved beyond their original programming, and the Reapers are obviously far more advanced. Even EDI is beginning to modify her purpose. Most likely the reason the Reapers harvest life is simply in order to reproduce.


  34. ...continued

    With this in mind, I think it's likely that the options given to Shepard aren't exactly what they seem. Destroy is straightforward, but control and synthesis are deceptions that actually benefit the Reapers. Control is a lie; the Catalyst fails to mention that Shepard will become a Reaper, and there's no reason to believe that she can control other Reapers by doing so. More likely this represents a bargain between Shepard and the Reapers. Shepard becomes the newest Reaper, fulfilling the Reapers' goal of reproduction, and in return the Reapers halt their attack and even help rebuild the galaxy. Pay attention to exactly what is and more importantly isn't said in the EC ending though. Shepard states that she's successfully protected the galaxy, but she never claims that she's successfully taken control of all the Reapers. Instead, she's become one of them, and while she's sympathetic to organic life now, there's no reason to believe that she won't become disconnected and Reaper-like after tens of thousands of years. This is ultimately a continuation of the cycle. The Reapers have harvested organic life to reproduce and have helped uplift the remaining organics just as they've always done, even rebuilding the mass effect relays, ensuring the organics continue down the desired technological paths.

    Synthesis might be even worse. Despite what the Catalyst tells us, it's unclear what actually happens after making this choice. All EDI really tells us is that everyone has been changed and that everything is better. However if everyone truly became a mix of organic and synthetic life as the Catalyst described, that wouldn't be enough to end all war or create a utopia. Supposedly synthesis makes it so that all lifeforms have the physical perfection of synthetics and the emotional understanding and independence of organics. Why would that bring an end to conflict? If anything it would only create more conflict, since synthetics have become more emotional beings. It's not as though the differences between synthetics and organics are the only reasons people in the mass effect universe fight. In reality, I believe the synthesis option releases a new form of indoctrination pulse, only available to the Reapers after an organic accesses the Crucible. This is actually the best choice for the Reapers. All organic and synthetic life is immediately indoctrinated. That's why there's peace; everyone serves the Reapers now. They don't even fully realize what's happened. Because of the way indoctrination works, EDI's description of life after the green pulse is suspect at best. At this point, she thinks whatever the Reapers want her to think.

    Shepard IS suffering from indoctrination-induced hallucinations, but it's not a dream conflict. These are real choices with galactic consequences. The hallucinations are meant to push Shepard deeper into indoctrination and ultimately to trick her into using the Crucible the way the Reapers see fit. Destruction is the best option for Shepard, but the worst for the Reapers, which is why the Catalyst presents it as the least desirable option. Control is somewhat of a compromise, giving the Reapers what they want, but allowing the galaxy to survive, at least for the time being. And synthesis is the Reapers' ideal, which is why the Catalyst tries to sell it so hard. It's possible that the designs for the Crucible were even created by the Reapers originally, or perhaps at least altered by a Reaper agent at some point. That's the ending I like anyways. It makes sense of most of the plot holes and lines up with the type of deception Reapers are known for while still giving us a conclusive ending with drastically different consequences depending on what choice you make.