Month: June 2014

Mass Effect: Things That Didn’t Make the Short List

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There was just so much I had to cover in reviewing Mass Effect that I resisted geeking out on every single thing I liked. So here’s a list of other parts of Mass Effect I liked in no particular order.

1. Marina Sirtis as Matriarch Benezia! Marina effing Sirtis! Okay, so she still sounded like Troi, but it was still awesome.

2. Driving the Mako was more fun that I’d like to admit.

3. I kind of regretted playing an engineer because the biotic abilities look like a lot of fun.

4. The music that played aboard the SSV Normandy was just incredible.

5. The weird montages that played when the Prothean beacon transmitted stuff into Shepard’s mind were really kind of disturbing.

6. I wanted to see a Prothean.

7. I couldn’t stop thinking of Kaidan Alenko as Carth Onasi from KOTOR once I figured out the same voice actor did both.

8. I used the rocket launcher thing maybe about 10 times.

So there are some random things I liked or that occured to me while playing. List some of your own, if you like.

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Mass Effect Review: Pouty-Lips Jane’s Regrets and My Satisfaction

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I finished Mass Effect the other day. I usually need some time after a good book, TV series, or good game to ruminate on my thoughts and feelings. Depending on the extent of said feelings, sometimes I have a bit more to sift through. Video games can be complex sometimes, with Mass Effect combining experiences of a great novel, an engaging TV series, and cramming those together into a video game.

At the end of the day, I almost regret not playing Mass Effect earlier. It has two sequels now that are practically begging to be played (in fact, I’ve already started Mass Effect 2 at the time of writing this since Pouty-Lips just wouldn’t shut up about it). Had I played it earlier, I may have had much more time to replay, and re-replay the game, exhausting all options of stories, then replaying others to remind myself of their conclusions.

Released in 2007, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then. Until I saw some of the textures. It’s true the graphics are not up to par, but I was surprised that some of the textures seemed a bit muddy, mostly clothing. It was easy to get distracted by the rather beautiful graphics shown by the characters faces. I can tell Bioware spent a fair effort in making sure the faces, even the most alien ones like Wrex, were “alive” enough to warrant some kind of engagement.

Otherwise, the graphics did their job quite well in most other ways, and I can certainly see myself booting up this game again and not being turned off by the older graphics engine, and part of me can’t wait. While I consider myself a junkie for PC RPGs, I rather enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay presented here. The 3rd-person running and gunning kept me on my toes and didn’t get too cumbersome, even if it flatlined in terms of complexity about half way through.

Mixing in the vehicular combat via the Mako, turned out to be a welcome change of pace in many of the missions, even if its controls were often a bit wonky. Learning the controls was all part of the fun, and we “older” gamers did our fair share of making due with terrible controls all through the 90’s in some cases.

The gameplay was well suited for experiencing the story and giving me a tour around the galaxy and the setting constructed for this experience. If there’s one thing Bioware does exceedingly well, it is that they know how to integrate the setting and gameplay so that you definitely feel like the game you’re playing is a “natural” way to experience the setting. Whether it’s an adapted setting (like D&D or the KOTOR games) or more original fare like Mass Effect, they rarely have left me feeling like my gameplay experience and the story or setting were disjointed in a game-breaking way.

The most attractive features to this game, for me, turned out to be the ones I was most skeptical about, and those are the setting and its story. I’m wary of sci-fi and fantasy settings in my games nowadays, because its been done so many times that they some times fail to feel exotic or fantastic as such settings should feel. Mass Effect did not fail here.
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Almost immediately (even character creation was immersive!) I enjoyed the setting, and all throughout I always anticipated “resuming my career” from my previous save to see what was next. Characters, mostly, really popped but this time Bioware outdid itself with its characters. Very few of them veer too far into the extremes of stock characters like the cutesy innocent type, or the clumsy but heart-warming type. No, in Mass Effect I felt like I was among like-minded professionals and felt they deserved some respect.

Perhaps it was the militaristic feel and backdrop, but the entire setting had a professional sense to it, and some may find this to be a bit stuffy or drab, but I quite enjoyed it. It reminds me of the professionalism seen in the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation compared to the swashbuckling style of Kirk & Kids from the Original Series. Again, some may be bored by it, but it was right up my alley.

There were a few points that didn’t quite sit well with me though, but nothing tragic. First of all, the inventory system was a mess. I actually felt anxiety when I got warnings that I was approaching some arbitrary maximum capacity. While the action based gameplay allowed for a bit more skill-based gameplay, it was nice to have some stat-juggling with the inventory and items. I just felt like I was acquiring gear for the entire crew of the Normandy, not just my squad mates, and having to take five or so minutes to sort through was distracting.
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In fact, despite the presence of numerous merchants, I never shopped in my play through. Not once. Maybe I missed some pretty good gear, but I wasn’t really hurting for it, and beat the game with what I picked up as loot.

Another minor off-key note was that the planetary exploration missions. I liked the whole concept and it really made me feel like I had some leeway to roam the galaxy. The side-quests issued by Admiral Whatshisname also feel inline with my character’s role in the fleet so that I didn’t feel like the objectives were too trivial compared to the main quest. However, the missions got a bit grindy and I’m glad they lasted only about 10 minutes or so.

Finally, the character customization was a bit underwhelming and I wound up with Jane having a nearly permanent duckface (and that’s not a type of alien I’m talking about) after I unwittingly boosted her lip size with space collagen or something. Just standing around, she reminded me of a sorority girl roaming around space stations looking for places to pose for a selfie.

#duckface #livindaspacelife #imaspectrebitchez
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Accompanying the setting were other great productions values like dazzling effects (though the mood lighting seemed a bit crazy sometimes, shining right though peoples’ heads), superb voice acting, and a wondrous soundtrack. The song that played over the ending credits (M4 by Faunts) chilled my spine and provided the adequate eargasm climax to this experience.

Aside from her sometimes humorous disfigurement, the story that Pouty-Lips Jane starred in was a rather good one. One of Bioware’s best perhaps, at least among its more recent games. There were no big surprises here, but it’s how it was done that impressed me so. Ancient foes returning from outside the galaxy, mind control, the greater good, it all came together in such a way that mixing in some character development and romance had me hooked liked some kind of TV show on Netflix. I just wanted to shotgun the whole thing, which I nearly did and had to force myself to slog through some of the side quests.

The branching storylines (Kaidan or Williams? How can I choose?!), Paragon/Renegade paths, and even multiple endings left me wanting to replay just to explore other options, and even regretting how I handled things at the end. The show must go on, however, and the ability to import Pouty Lips Jane Shepard into Mass Effect 2 means she has to deal with her regrets as well as whatever other galaxy-threatening problems pop up.  The structure was the tried and true 3-main locations for main quest/good or evil choices/romance chats/sidequests Bioware has perfected over the years, but it’s wheel that worked just fine on this road and needed no reinventing.

Quite early on, I realized that this was a more entertaining game that many TV shows I’ve tried to watch. I’m glad there are sequels to play, excited that I can replay it, and even surprised that gameplay elements I don’t normally associate with RPGs succeeded wildly in keeping me engaged while other typical RPG elements fell by the wayside. It’s modern classic to be sure.

If you’ve played this game, share some of your favorite memories or experiences from the game in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them!

And here’s some of that end credits goodness for you:

Now Playing: Mass Effect, First Impressions and Pouty-Lips Jane

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After my previous post which highlighted the history of Bioware’s RPGs, I finally broke down and got myself a copy of space opera Mass Effect. It had been the only series I hadn’t played, so I’m getting my chance to see what I was missing.

After a few adjustments to the graphics (the default settings were too low), I jumped into creating my first character. Having played plenty of Bioware games before, the process was familiar. I chose a female and used the default name Jane, and picked a class.

This is where my unfamiliarity with this series showed up. I had no idea what these classes were, but I guessed that tech, biotic, and combat were at least similar to soldier/rogue/wizard classes in other games. My only hang up was not being aware of how future party members’ skills would balance out with my own, but then I stopped thinking so much about it and chose an Engineer.

My final step was to customize the look of Jane Shepard (not Shepherd?) from assorted body types and facial structures. The mannequin provided during this process didn’t seem to accurately portray the adjustments made with my sliders, and as soon as I started the game, I was surprised to see Jane had quite a big kisser on her face. Seriously, her lips looked like they had some space age collagen. I think drag queens would be jealous of them. Overall, I could tell that the game was from 2007 since the options in customization weren’t as, ahem… fleshed out as newer titles.

I didn’t really have time to think about her huge lips much more because the story picks up right off the bat. I listened to some introductory dialogue, made my way through the first mission which also served as a tutorial, and saw a couple characters meet an early death.

By now I’m at least part way through the story, have all of the available party members, but have only used a few, and I’ve explored a few of the side quest planets.

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Overall, I’m enjoying the game. The setting is pretty slick so far, and I like that humans aren’t depicted as the primary species of the galaxy, but instead are newcomers (the rather arrogant aliens of the galaxy seen to have learned English rather quickly though).

Inventory and skill points are a simple affair, simpler than in KOTOR, and leave me plenty of time to experience the story. Perhaps, though, these features don’t seem inviting enough for me to care too much about them, but if I don’t see numbers and statistics out in the open to crunch on, then I won’t go looking for them.

The planetary explorations are pretty different and remind me of the Mechwarrior games from the 90’s, but only in superficial presentation. That’s not a bad thing, but I laugh constantly at the implausibility of the vehicle’s ability to traverse jagged terrain and, like a cat, always land on its feet, or wheels, or whatever.

Streamlined gameplay is the theme here, and I’m ready to see Pouty-Lips Jane save the galaxy. Stay tuned for any further updates about my play through, and the review when I finish.

Bioware Games: A Retrospective

I’ve been a fan (more or less) of Bioware since the dawn of the millennium. Okay, that makes it sound much longer than it really is, but it’s true. Now know as a powerhouse game developer, it’s easy to sit and wonder if Bioware can continue to hold up its reputation as a mastersmith of RPGs.

Some may say that since the founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk have retired that perhaps the studio has lost its spirit. Perhaps this is true. We don’t know what future holds for Bioware, but I certainly remember its past. So let’s take a look. It’s easy to divide this history into the three parts, which I’ll call: The Beginning, The Rise, and Success.

  • The Beginning

Baldur’s Gate Series (1998-2001)

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Baldur’s Gate is just one of those great gaming phenomenons that should never be forgotten. It not only resurrected an ailing RPG genre on PC (RPGs in the late 90s were dominated by consoles and were especially popular if they began with “F” and ended with “-antasy”), it introduced us to Bioware.

The series features gameplay based on Dungeons & Dragons rule sets, stellar character development, interactive party based tactical combat, epic plots, and overall awesomeness.  I still play these games to this day (which are currently experiencing a renaissance being released as the Enhanced Edition for PC, Android, and Mac).

Almost every RPG released is explicitly or implicitly compared to this series.

Neverwinter Nights (2002-2003)

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Following up on the heels of Baldur’s Gate and its Icewind Dale spinoffs was Neverwinter Nights. It featured a brand new 3D game engine and adopted D&D’s Third Edition rule set. The game also included developer tools for player-made content. This was supposed to provide a “modern” and flexible gameplay experience.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite come together for this game. The storyline included in this game was bland, trite even, the graphics were never pretty, and everything lacked cohesiveness, so unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice for Bioware on this one.

At least in those ways. Remember those development tools? They are still popular today, and the past decade has seen countless player-made campaigns and mods released. So in this way Neverwinter Nights is remarkable because few games after included such things.

Neverwinter Nights did spawn a sequel but its developer Obsidian Entertainment is different than Bioware, and likely deserves its own post.

Thus were Bioware’s beginnings established, and the farewell to this era was a hard one.

  • The Rise

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

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So what’s the difference between a beginning and a rise? About nine years and a switch to console. 2003 saw the release of one of the biggest RPGs of all time in scope, ambition, success, and popularity. Bioware crafted a unique period of Star Wars history all to suit its purposes of providing us with an engaging story and to help dissolve the bitterness that George Lucas’ prequel films left on Star Wars fans’ palates.

Well, it worked. Even though it was eventually released to PC, I was playing more console games at the time, and let me tell you, this game was just incredible. It made Star Wars enjoyable again. It had a bit more complexity than NWN and had that essence of epicness that made Baldur’s Gate so good. It stood on its own confidently.

Baldur’s Gate may have been Bioware’s claim as masters of RPG development, but KOTOR was the confirmation.

Even today, KOTOR is seen as the new standard for RPGs much as Baldur’s Gate had been previously. Its new cinematic style, instead of isometric, is still favored today.

Jade Empire (2005)

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Surprisingly, Bioware didn’t pursue development of a KOTOR sequel (leaving that once again to Obsidian Entertainment) and instead focused its efforts on something different. That turned out to be Jade Empire, a martial arts themed action RPG. Almost mirroring NWN before it, Jade Empire features some differences from KOTOR that individually were superior, but failed to coalesce.

Superior graphics, a more open-ended storyline, and a martial arts combat system really set this game apart from its predecessors. I found it to be immensely enjoyable, even if it wasn’t quite as immersive as either Baldur’s Gate or KOTOR. Another stand-out feature that is even a controversial thing today is that same-sex romances were available for both genders.

That’s right. You could shack up with a dude or a chick as a dude or a chick. At the time, I wasn’t aware of these options, mostly because they weren’t broadcasted loudly, maybe to avoid negative press, but as a gaymer myself, I find this fact especially endearing. Even now, this romance feature is still met with a lot of resistance in current games because of stupid reasons, but that is material for another post.

Jade Empire proved to be more of a sidestep for Bioware, but it did provide a chance to flex its creative muscle when creating entirely unique settings instead of using D&D or Star Wars elements.

  • Success(?)

You’ll understand the question mark is a bit. After Jade Empire, Bioware embarked on it’s most profitable and controversial chapter yet.

Mass Effect (2007-2012)

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I haven’t played Mass Effect, to be honest, and I know that I should. In fact, it’s been on my short list for several weeks now. If only Steam would put it on sale…

Still, Mass Effect has three entries by now (rumors of a fourth abound, I bet), and this series has been both lauded and criticized for its features. A Sci-Fi action RPG, the game also included lots of mature character development.

It’s hard to be objective about a game I haven’t played, so let’s just say: I really want to play this game before I die. I am afraid of being letdown, though, since player complaints with latter installments of this series have been widely publicized.

Dragon Age Series (2009-2014)

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Truth: I only played the first one, Dragon Age: Origins. It was more my style than Mass Effect. It was labeled the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. It featured another unique setting and rule set from Bioware, and promised to be the beginning of an exciting new RPG franchise.

I gave this game a chance. I really did. It had a lot of great elements. The story (as much as I saw of it) seemed pretty good. I liked the characters even if they seemed more generic and filled general roles within the plot instead of having their own unique identities. The game even featured same-sex romances! (I was single at the time, so any kind of gay romance would have eased my lonliness).

DA:O kind of dropped the ball though. I didn’t really care for the combat system. The setting was a bit bleh. And the gay romance was with a minor character whom I thought was extremely annoying. Why couldn’t it have been one of the main character NPC’s?

I also heard the sequel was disappointing, which removed any desire to finish the first game. There is a sequel coming out this year, though, so I bet people are lining up in hopes it will be a good one. Not this guy. I appreciate what Bioware was trying to do here, but I feel like they lost their touch on this one. That may be why I’ve been hesitant to pick up the Mass Effect series.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011-present)

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Bioware finally went to the darkside and released an MMO. One of the biggest MMOs ever, in fact. And one of the biggest let downs. It went free-to-play relatively quickly, and they couldn’t quite convince me that they were doing so nonchalantly. It’s a copy and paste affair of MMO gameplay elements (i.e. a Star Wars skin for World of Warcraft), which a whole bunch of single player quests that really disrupt the flow of how MMOs play.

They even said they were including same gender romances, but back pedaled on that. So if you want to be out of the closet to the community around you in TOR, then you either have to be a chaste loner, or play a your opposite gender to snag a boyfriend or girlfriend.

No it’s not as big a deal as other failed aspects of the game, but it would have been nice to have a welcome home within a community that the gameplay itself provides. But it’s the game’s overall blandness and its arbitrarily derived development that gave a pretty but neutered MMO experience. There are other MMOs that do things better, even if they aren’t Star Wars.

  • The Future

By now you may begin to understand that question mark. With Bioware’s success also developed an unfortunate tendency for things to slip through the cracks, as it were. Gone are the days where the studio produces tightly wound and efficient products, and instead they put out massively produced sagas that are vulnerable to the occasional iceberg.

I’m still a fan, but is it fair to say as an older fan of theirs, I fear that they may alienate me if they veer too far from where they came? I don’t want them to release Baldur’s Gate year after year and call it something new, but whether it’s called Mass Effect or Dragon Age, aren’t they just releasing KOTOR year after year?

Maybe it’s time for some intrepid young adventurers to take up arms within in the gaming industry and show the big boys some new ideas for RPGs. It’s what Bioware did not too long ago…

 

 

 

Sex and the City Re-watch Recap: Games People Play

Carrie is post break up and she isn’t afraid to say it.

To anyone.

Repeatedly.

I knew a girl who did this one time. It was awful.

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Carrie’s friends tell her she needs therapy. Good girls.

She says she doesn’t believe in therapy. Neither does Charlotte. She says her family believes in exercise instead, which is why her family plays tennis so well. Samantha’s sideways look to Miranda in response is hilarious.

Even Stanford has a shrink. Three in fact.

While Carrie’s contemplates her impending head shrink, a really cute guy has begun playing flirty eye games with Miranda across her air shaft. That never happened to me in my apartment.

We next see Carrie mid session and the experience is as excruciating as you may think. Carrie’s world is rocked when the shrink tells her she picks the wrong men.

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While Carrie and the rest discuss the merits of playing games in the dating pool, they find a bar flooded with straight men. Samantha decides to swim in the testosterone. She finds quite the sports fanatic.

Carrie does her trademark musing with her laptop, questioning the role of gameplay in relationships. Which leads to…

Another interview montage!!!

Apparently they aren’t dead yet. If you’ve tracked my blogs on SATC then you know I’ve mentioned these before and claimed that they have been done with. Well… here’s another. It depicts some gameplay tactics “real people”  employ.

At Carrie’s second appointment she sees a hot guy as he finishes his session with Doctor G. At her third, she is dressed up and absolutely begging for him to talk to her.

Is that a little game, Carrie?

The guy introduces himself as Seth, but as he is clearly Jon Bon Jovi, we can guess he suffers from multiple personality disorder or something. Carrie quickly sets up a date.

While Carrie and Samantha are catching up, Sam is watching a game. The guy she is seeing is so into sports that if his team loses, then they don’t have sex. When they do have sex, Samantha alleges it is amazing, so she submits her chance of orgasm to the capricious nature of sports.

Miranda once again is making eyes with the guy in the neighboring building. This time he’s in just a towel and wants her to do a twirl. She obliges and is rewarded with a glimpse of his ass. She in turn shows off a boob. She really knows how to expedite things.

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Meanwhile, Carrie and Jon Bon Seth share Doctor G. stories. In an effort to halt any games, Carrie bluntly expresses her attraction. Seth Jovi reciprocates like Miranda baring a boob.

Speaking of which, Miranda sees her flirt friend at the store. She to decides to be an adult, and when she catches herself playing hide and seek, she bucks up greets him. 

Things quickly become horrifying. The guy seems to have no recollection of her. Even her miming of breast baring only brings back a vague recognition. Then he does realize who she is: the girl who lives above the guy he’s been cruising.

Welcome to Mortification City.  Your embarrassment (embarbreastment?) destination. Population: Miranda.

Miranda schedules an emergency session with her therapist.

Samantha thinks she may finally be able to have sports-less sex, but turns out there isn’t a sport he doesn’t follow, and his favorite baseball team has been sucking. Samantha decides to forfeit this game.

Carrie and Bon Seth are playing Twister. She thinks that their post-Twister sex heralds then end of game time and she decides to get real. She asks Twister champ Seth why he sees a shrink.

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He loses interest in women after sleeping with them.

Carrie makes a break through. She truly does pick the wrong guys.

At least Carrie got to rebound with Bon Jovi’s doppelganger. Not a bad way to recover from Big. Will Carrie have more hilarious and tedious dating hijinks note that she’s single? Guess we’ve got the rest of season two to find out.

The theme of “games” in this episode is well played… ha. But seriously, the issues explored are pertinent to anyone who has ever felt this way while dating. There will always be players out there, but sometimes the hardest thing is realizing that you are one.

I’m Sorry My Allergies Are Bothering *You*

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I was in line at the store the other day picking up a few things. I didn’t have much and I was under the impression that would make me a rather quick and unobtrusive customer among those with carts full of processed foods.

I was also glad to have only a few things because my seasonal allergies have acted up, and I was hoping to finish quickly so I could get to my car and blow my nose a few hundred times into some old napkins from Subway.  The symptoms have been relatively strong this year for whatever reason. Climate change? Global warming? Pollution?

Whatever.

Needless to say, these symptoms have been difficult to contend with and all of my interactions with clients and customers, family and friends are all marred by my insecurity that mucus is dribbling down my face as if I am incapable of managing my own bodily affairs like I’m an invalid or something.

So I resorted to a quick snort to reign in my messy mucus. The relief would last seconds, a couple minutes at the most, but I only needed to waylay my nasal drip for a handful more moments.

While assesing the success of my snort, the lovely lady (and by lovely I mean she looked sweaty in her overly priced workout clothes) behind me decided to speak up.

“Wow! That sounds really bad. Do you need a tissue?” She chimed in.

“No,” I said, “it’s just my allergies. I’ll be fine.”

As if her comment had magical powers of summoning, I suffered an irresistible itch and found myself sniffling again.

I noticed the woman’s eyebrows arch so high I thought that they would float above her scalp like a Warner Brother’s cartoon. She said, “Well, that *sounds* really bad.”

I noticed her emphasis, but as it was my turn to check out, I had no chance to respond. My missed opportunity itched in a way similar to my allergies, but was entirely unreachable. I scanned my items. Paid. Walked out to my car. Promptly blew my nose into the paper napkin that still smelled of Subway bread.

Then I seethed.

Who did this woman think she was? A hall monitor? Morality police? Maybe the runner’s high she got at the gym made her feel entitled to criticise a seemingly sickly, allergy-ridden person buying toiletries.

Well, you know what lady?

My immune system is mistakenly reacting, drowning me in my own body fluids. My tissues are inflaming against ghosts. I can’t breathe. But excuse me for upsetting your delicate sensibilities with my sniffling! I didn’t realize I was being so insensitive. I’m so sorry my allergies are bothering you!

I never chose to have allergies, just like my mother never chose to suffer from astigmatism. This isn’t some ailment that I parade around in an effort merely to annoy others. It’s not contagious. And you know what?

I don’t complain about it.

I may share my frustrations with others so afflicted by allergies. We are like war buddies. We’ve been through the same things, but never have I tried to lobby the non-allergic for sympathy. In addition to my other bothersome symptoms, the last thing I need is criticism for trying to deal the best I can.

So here’s the thing lady: why don’t you imagine what it’s like for your own sinuses to smother you, your nose to sneeze constantly with intensity that could propel a cruise ship, and then try to tell me that my sniffling is bothersome to you.

It may sound gross. It may seem rude. I wish that I could suffer in complete silence, but I would love for the mere sound of my nose to be the only thing about my allergies that bothered me.

Want to trade?