Mass Effect 3’s ending, the “Indoctrination Theory” and something I call the “Franchise Imperative”

Anyone reading a gaming blog has probably noticed that a lot of Mass Effect fans are dissatisfied with Mass Effect 3’s ending.

I don’t know exactly what the developers had in mind in crafting the game’s finale, but I am 100 percent positive the ending is not meant to be taken literally. SPOILERS after the jump.

I’m going to assume that anyone reading this is invested enough in Mass Effect 3 to not require an extensive rehash of the controversy. The main points of objection are:

1) No matter what choices players make during the game’s climax, the final cut scenes are remarkably similar, although one ending does entail the destruction of earth. (That’s kind of a big deal.)

2) Much of the ending seems to contradict the Mass Effect series’ own logic. Leading some fans to debate something called the “Indoctrination Theory,” which basically amounts to “It was all a dream and BioWare and EA Games will release the real ending later.” Here is a video explaining the theory.

I personally think the Indoctrination Theory is pretty compelling, although some fans respond that behind the scenes content shown in The Final Hours reveals the creators simply wrote an ending that many people don’t like.

Another reason for fans’ rejection of Mass Effect 3’s conclusion is the final scene’s implication that the Milky Way’s “Mass Effect Relays” will be destroyed no matter how players attempt to resolve the game’s final conflict. The relays made Mass Effect’s gameplay possible by creating a mechanism for easy interstellar travel and players have also been informed during the course of the Mass Effect franchise that destruction of the relays can destroy entire star systems. This upshot is that Mass Effect 3’s ending seems to prevent the development of any future sequels.

Whether the game’s creators intended for the Indoctrination Theory to be the “true” conclusion to Mass Effect 3, I am confident the real ending is not intended to be taken at face value. I call my own theory the “Franchise Imperative,” and it breaks down like this:

1) Mass Effect games are part of a successful franchise and make a lot of money.
2) EA Games and BioWare executives like money.
3) Ending the Mass Effect franchise would reduce EA Games’ and BioWare’s ability to make money.
4) Therefore, EA Games and BioWare would not write an ending that actually destroys the relays. The writers have a “franchise imperative” to ensure that no matter what happens in the story, they can plausibly develop and release a new sequel in order to make money.

QED and all that.