Ink Meets Flesh: A Gaming Tattoo Primer

SilenthillDog.jpg Years ago, tattoos were considered quite the taboo for normal folk. They were usually reserved for the likes of bikers, thugs, sailors and circus sideshow performers. In the last ten to fifteen years, tattooing has become de rigueur amongst the alternative set, slowly spreading its inky wings to a larger part of the general populous. Even more recently, a certain subset of the gaming community has gotten on board the tattoo train and begun immortalizing their favorite video game icons on their skin, permanently embedding their love of the medium into their skin.

But not every gaming tattoo is a good gaming tattoo. We've seen some pass through the hallowed halls of Kotaku Tower that would raise your hair. From the goth speed metal Silent Hill logo to the slightly out of shape Zappers, some tattoos just make you say "What the hell were you thinking?" Fortunately, I have a wee bit of experience with tattoos. So if you're ready to take the plunge and allow needle to meet flesh, repeatedly, hit the jump for a couple of important rules.

I have seen quite a few people with gaming tattoos over the last year, some good and some bad. Whenever I see them I try and chat the person up and get an idea why it is they decided to go with a particular design. I ran into a fellow named Shane the other day who was sporting a Pac-Man tattoo. While Pac-Man is admittedly a simple design, it is also infinitely recognizable. I asked him what made him decide on a Pac-Man design and this is what he had to say.

"I just really loved that game so much. It was in integral part of my childhood. I spent a lot of time in arcades playing Pac-Man and most of my allowance went to that game. It was also a game I played with a group of very close friends on a regular basis. As I got older I would play Pac-Man in some of the bars I would go to and the rush of nostalgia was so great. So when I decided to get tattooed, I really wanted something that would remind of all those great times I had when I was younger and of those friends that I don't really see anymore."

gettingtattooed.jpg I spoke with Rick B., a tattoo artist who has surprisingly done quite a few gaming tattoos and asked him (in his experience) what seems to be the most popular designs amongst gamers.

"The Zelda Tri-Force is a pretty popular one. I have done four or five of those, mostly due to references from the first one I did. Honestly, I didn't even know what the hell it was the first time I saw it. When the guy told me what it was I vaguely remembered watching my little brother play it when we were kids, but I was never really into video games after high school. I've also done a couple Marios, but other than that most have them have been pretty random"

We chatted a bit more and I asked him if he had ever discouraged someone from getting a gaming tattoo or just a tattoo in general.

"I don't usually make any commentary on what people choose to get on their bodies, but I do have a few rules. I won't tattoo anyone's face or anything racist. There have also been a few instances where people bring in drawings that are just a mess. I try and get them to let me clean it up but a lot of times they want what's on the paper so they get what's on the paper. I remember this guy brought in a Mario that looked like he was a melting candle. Horrible. Since then I've actually gathered some images of the more popular characters so that people who come in looking for something like that will have more spec images to draw from."

Whenever we post readers' gaming tattoos here on the site, they are always met with mixed reactions. (which is why you haven't seen mine gracing the front page until now) Some love them, some hate them, some are just ambivalent, but they always have an opinion. It seems like people tend to become extremely judgmental when it comes to what other people put on their bodies but let's face it, an ugly tattoo is an ugly tattoo. So, I thought I would take the time to give some advice to those of you who are considering getting a gaming tattoo and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that go along with it. Some of this is just good solid advice for getting tattoos in general, but gaming tattoos can be tricky so they deserve a little special attention.

1. Make sure the art that you bring to the tattoo artist is exactly the way you want it. Be sure that all the lines are the way you want them, etc. Also be sure that the colors are correct so you don't end up with a Link wearing a teal outfit instead of his standard green. Unless of course you're going for the Four Swords look...

2. If you are not positive that this is the design you want, try it out first. On more than one occasion I have drawn a potential design on myself with a Sharpie or other non-toxic marker just to check it out. You do not want to bet that full back tattoo of Lara Croft fighting the T-rex only to discover down the road that it really wasn't what you wanted and now you feel like an idiot.

3. Try to avoid logos. I know you love Nintendo, but perhaps choosing a character or symbol might be a better choice than emblazoning their corporate identity across your body. It ends up crossing the line between what could be a nice piece of tattoo art and looking like a billboard.

4. Go somewhere with a good reputation. Cleanliness is a must. If you know people with good tatts, ask them where they got theirs. In pretty much every tattoo studio you go into, the artists will usually have a book of their work available to check out. Try to pick someone who has a style similar to what your looking for. There are not that many tattoo artists who specialise in "video game style" but for instance, someone who does good portraits might be a good choice for 3D work.

5. It's a tattoo. It will be there for the rest of your life. Are you still going to love that cute Animal Crossing character in 20 years? Is it really worth it to spend the money on that completely obscure character that you yourself might forget when you get older? Is your band's name in Rock Band so awesome that it will last the ages?

6. While this might seem to contradict the last tip, it's just as important. This is YOUR tattoo, no one else's. If you want to get the PowerGlove put on you, by all means do it, but remember that if you post it to the Internet, who knows where it will end up. And wherever it ends up, you can be sure everyone will have plenty to say about it.

Me? I have two half-sleeves (I'm tattooed from sternum to elbowson both sides and have a few on my legs), but I didn't get my first gaming related tattoo until last year. I wanted to get something gaming related, but I didn't want the Tri-force or a Mario. I was looking for something that was gaming, but wouldn't be recognised immediately by the general public. Something that only people who gamed would recognise, sort of like a secret handshake. I was also waiting for that game to come along that made enough of an impression on me to make me want to have it added to my already large collection.

bioshockchains.jpg That game ended up being BioShock. The tattoo was the small three link chains that your player character has on his wrists and can be seen throughout the game whenever you fire certain weapons of shoot yourself up with a plasmid. It turned out to be the perfect tattoo. Smallish, and to the untrained eye, just a simple chain but to anyone who's played BioShock, it's instantly recognisable. For me, it was the perfect blend of video games and tattooing.


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