The Theory of IndoctrinationEdit

an in-depth look into Indoctrination Theory presented by /r/Indoctrinated


“Reaper ‘indoctrination’ is an insidious means of corrupting organic minds, ‘reprogramming’ the brain through physical and psychological conditioning using electromagnetic fields, infrasonic and ultrasonic noise, and other subliminal methods. The Reaper's resulting control over the limbic system leaves the victim highly susceptible to its suggestions.” -- Codex entry on indoctrination

Indoctrination Theory, commonly abbreviated IT, is the idea that throughout the Mass Effect series, Commander Shepard is slowly and unknowingly indoctrinated by the Reapers, and that the final sequences of Mass Effect 3 are not literal events, but constructs of Shepard’s mind in his internal battle against indoctrination. In this document, evidence for Indoctrination Theory is compiled in detail, the theory itself explained, and several counter-arguments and frequently asked questions are also addressed.

Note: Although Commander Shepard can be of either gender, in this document Shepard will always be referred to as male for the sake of practicality.


ME Mass Effect
IT Indoctrination Theory
Starchild The Catalyst
TIM The Illusive Man
Stargazer Scene The after-credits scene featuring two figures stargazing
Keeper Tunnel/Hall The hall containing a keeper that Shepard arrives in after entering the beam up to the Citadel
The Reaper Beam/Blast The specific laser beam from Harbinger that knocked out Shepard
EMS Effective Military Strength
LI Love Interest (Character Shepard is romancing)
Space Magic The apparent catch-all explanation for all logical fallacies at a face-value, literal interpretation of the ending
Red/Green/Blue or RGB Referring to the final, color-coded choices of “Destroy”, “Synthesis”, and “Control”, respectively

The Theory

The Indoctrination

Throughout the series, Commander Shepard has had much exposure to Reapers and their technology. At some point, likely through Object Rho, long-term indoctrination was initiated on the commander. At first, it seemed that nothing at all had changed. Shepard’s strong willpower was able to repel and delay the effects of indoctrination for a moderately large amount of time, but the simple resistance of mind eventually started to prove unfruitful. Shepard gradually began to experience the symptoms and effects of indoctrination as his mental barriers started to wear down. He began seeing hallucinations, such as the child in Vancouver, hearing strange noises, and having unusual dreams.

The Battle for Earth


Evidence is sorted into four categories:

  1. Compelling Evidence - Meaningful, relevant, convincing evidence that is incompatible with a literal interpretation of the current ending sequence, demanding a new explanation.
  2. Circumstantial Evidence - Evidence that seems to suggest indoctrination, but does not necessarily mandate it. Items listed here could possibly be explained by other means, but make most sense in the context of Indoctrination Theory.
  3. Incidental Evidence - Subtle hints and clues that are inadmissible or unreliable as standalone evidence, but useful/indicative as literary mechanisms or explanations.
  4. Debunked Evidence and Theories - Evidence that has been proven false or irrelevant.