A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Thoughts on the Ending – Mass Effect 3


Fair warning, this post will contain significant spoilers.

Recently, there’s been a lot of fuss over the ending to Mass Effect 3. After having an opportunity to digest it, I was originally kind of okay with it, even though it kind of left me feeling a bit adrift emotionally. Then I saw a video that made me think. It was regarding something called the Indoctrination Theory and it inspired me to consider other things… from how Shepard was fighting indoctrination to asking how he became indoctrinated to pondering what happened or what would happen if the existing ending was the real ending like I had originally assumed. I’m going to discuss a few of these thoughts now, so please bear with me.

1) The child in the beginning wasn’t really there. During my first playthrough, I saw a young boy playing with a toy in a courtyard. I was like, “okay, symbolic of having no cares in the world.” Later though, I encountered him cowering in a ventilation shaft. I offered to help him and his response of “You can’t help me” made me say out loud, “How do you know that?” In retrospect, I remember the cutscene at the ending of the introduction where the child is near the evacuation shuttles as a Reaper arrives. No one interacts with the child, no one drapes a blanket over his shoulders or ushers him to safety or even helps him aboard the shuttle. That lack of assistance for a child is extremely unlike any human behavior I know. It is in our nature to assist our young, regardless of how deadly the situation is and even if it would do no good.

2) The mass effect relays were destroyed in the end. We are shown the destruction of a relay in the ending of the Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC when an asteroid hits it. It wipes out the whole system it’s in, including hundreds of thousands of batarians. One of the hardest things to be a part of, in my opinion. If all the mass relays explode in a similar fashion, then doesn’t all life in all the systems with relays die? What happens to the galactic civilization we enjoyed? There aren’t any ships that seem to navigate from cluster to cluster (or nebula) without a mass relay and therefore a large number of non-self sufficient colonies are going to die from the lack of support. Also, the economy is destroyed. Further, even if this particular energy blast (red, green, or blue) made it so that they don’t explode and wipe everyone out, the economy and galactic civilization as we knew it is absolutely over. Without the mass relays, the ending is bittersweet at best.

3) If Shepard is fighting indoctrination, and the child at the beginning is part of it, when did Shepard start becoming indoctrinated? I have a few arguments for different parts in the series. Most recently, it could be that with the sheer number of Reapers, Shepard was initially indoctrinated during the invasion of Earth. We’re told, and we’ve experienced, that indoctrination is more easily affected with close proximity, so that rules that out. In the Arrival DLC at the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard is knocked out and kept in relative close proximity to a Reaper artifact that has indoctrinated an entire base of Alliance personnel. This is very likely to be the part where Shepard was affected the most and probably had the most significant effect on him during ME3. There is also the time aboard the derelict Reaper in ME2. Your exposure, however brief, could have moved things along a little. You could go back farther and argue that the Prothean Beacon in the very beginning of Mass Effect was possibly corrupted by Saren or by the Protheans who were indoctrinated and that you’ve been getting more and more indoctrinated throughout the whole series. Just a thought on those last two as I’m not sure they’re really the point where indoctrination occurred.

4) Anderson and The Illusive Man at the end are symbolic. I get that they could possibly be both sides of your psyche or something in this fight between the indoctrinated belief that you can possibly control the Reapers somehow and the strongly held, most logical belief, that the Reapers must be destroyed if we are all to be saved. The Illusive Man is definitely in charge at the end there as Shepard is broken and his will is getting kicked around like some kind of rag doll. Even I was thinking, “Damn Shepard, do you need a nap or something? How are you still going?” A good point is made though: how are you beat to hell and barely standing but Anderson is in nearly mint condition? I understand luck, but damn man… you’re LUCKY.

5) The Catalyst gives really crappy options. Initially, I just went with it, but when I had to finally make a decision between Control, Synthesis, or Destruction, I had a real hard time choosing. It had been proven to me by The Illusive Man that the Reapers couldn’t really be controlled, but I didn’t want to destroy EDI and the Geth. So I went with Synthesis and found myself regretting my choice ever since I was given the chance to think about it. Also, I felt it was really crappy that every decision essentially had the same repercussions: I died, something happens to the Reapers, the Normandy crashes, and galactic civilization as we know it comes to a screeching halt. That annoying little boy really pissed me off with his absolutely crappy solutions. Come on, you created the Reapers? Who created you? More importantly, if you’re so powerful, how come you don’t know that I was able to broker peace between us and the AI species of our time? Hell, they’re fighting the Reapers right outside our little conversation! Further, how in the hell would the Destroy option kill me because I’m “part synthetic”? Earlier in the game I was TOLD TO MY FACE BY EDI that I wasn’t synthetic enough to qualify as artificial life or something like that. As an aside, I’m kind of ticked that no one seems to have picked up on that conversation with EDI in Mass Effect 3.

6) The ending is an internal struggle against indoctrination. If that’s the case, well, I can see all the symbolism that has trained us to think a particular way during the series being used against us. The Control method is colored blue, and even though The Illusive Man (a man we have struggled against in some form for three whole games) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Paragon decision. The Destroy method is colored red, and even though Anderson (a man we trust and support wholeheartedly) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Renegade decision. In the whole series Paragon is blue and Renegade is red. If you look at it another way, view the final decision room from a top down perspective. You see three choices much like when you’re in conversations with people. The top right is Control and is colored blue. The middle right is Synthesis and is colored green. The bottom right is Destroy and is colored red. You, well, you start in the middle like the cursor normally does. It’s a dialogue choice and it’s designed this way purely to mess with you as the player.

7) This wasn’t the actual ending to the game and there’s still more fighting to be done. If this is the case, I’m all for it. Let me stand back up in the rubble. Let me grab my M-96 Mattock and start shooting again. Let me save Earth. Let me take it back. I’m still here and I’m not done yet. There is a strong question of the ethics in charging money for a DLC that continues the ending of the game or even just changes it. This is beyond the whole “people don’t like your ending” argument, this is a “you released an unfinished product and now in order to finish it properly, you want to charge people for it” kind of issue. I don’t mind paying for DLCs and I find that the extra couple of hours of gameplay that they usually offer encourages me to enjoy the game all over again (especially if the DLCs are semi-frequent and really awesome). I mind buying a broken or unfinished product and I particularly mind the idea of paying to fix said broken or unfinished product. DLCs are optional content that add to the context of the game, but they are first and foremost OPTIONAL and therefore are not REQUIRED to enjoy the experience set before you. Changing the ending or finishing the game can be argued to be both optional and required, so I’m going to leave that up to the internet forums that like to argue about these things to no eventual resolution.

Let’s wrap this up. I’m currently going through my second playthrough. I’m taking my time, I’m finding all the little bits and pieces here and there. Further, I’m keeping a much more open mind to the possibilities that there were messages in the prior games that could help inform me in ME3. In Mass Effect, the final fight against Saren proves that Synthesis with the Reapers isn’t a good idea and I definitely forgot this when I got to ME3. In ME2, the constant back and forth with The Illusive Man starts the argument that we really shouldn’t even try to Control the Reapers as it’ll just end badly. In Mass Effect 3, it becomes more obvious that the only way to win this is to destroy them. I’m going to do that. Also, multiplayer is quite fun.

I hope this article has helped somehow. I hope it makes you think about your preconceived notions about the series, that it makes you look deeper into your favorite stories, that you never stop questioning the world around you especially when you’re surrounded by a fabricated world of wonder created by others and for the sole purpose of entertainment. Take the Socratic method into your heart and wander the world, wherever it may be and however real it is or isn’t. I was swept up in the moment and I learned that I need to pay more attention than ever.

Thank you Bioware. You made an incredible game that you’re not entirely done with. I think you did this intentionally. Well, whatever happens, Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time and when all the DLCs have been released and you put this series to bed, I will dust off the original and I will go from beginning to end. I will remind myself of the journey and the friends and the choices I made and I will be grateful for the opportunity to do so. As with the Redwall series, whenever Brian Jacques came out with a new one, I would read all of them again. As I did this more or less with Mass Effect, your games have become akin to grand books. You have truly created something marvelous that transcends mediums. I give you my heartfelt congratulations and say that I look forward to what comes next.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. In the whole of the series, I played a self-sacrificing Shepard. Anything I could do to help those in or under my command, I did it. Yes, I got played by some mean-spirited souls and got screwed occasionally, but I helped more than I harmed. I made some incredible friends through the people who joined my cause and I cite them as the source of the majority of my enjoyment from the series. Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara, Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, Mordin, Grunt, Jack, Kasumi, Thane, Samara, Legion, James, Javik, and EDI are all people of whom I can speak fondly. So too do I speak fondly of Joker, Anderson, Adams, Chakwas, the dynamic duo of Ken and Gabby, Chambers, Cortez, Traynor, and Allers. However fictional they may be, I have this to say of them: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anaïs Nin. When it comes to my friends, I take this to heart: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – Jesus, John 15:13.

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