Since I started writing for Kotaku I've been exposed to sides of gaming culture I was never really aware of. Game cakes, game crochet, papercraft...all ways for the more creative and skilled of us to express their dedication to our great passion, but what about those of us without mad crafting skills? I could probably pull off a game cake of the Adventure hero sans arrow sword, or fold up some origami throwing stars and toss them at my cats, pretending I am Ryu Hayabusa, but it wouldn't be the same. Luckily for the unskilled (and perhaps slightly unbalanced) of us, there is another way. The gaming tattoo. Armed with the knowledge provided me by Flynn's excellent feature back in January of this year, I decided it was time to make long sleeve shirts a requirement for job interviews for the rest of my life and get inked.
What follows is my experience getting my very first tattoo, along with some images the squeamish might want to avoid like the plague. It seems I enjoy photographing blood. Call it residual goth.
It started off as a joke. My best girl was coming to stay for a week, and we wanted to do something to commemorate the occasion. At first I suggested getting a Prince Albert, which you should probably not Google if you don't already know what it is. That didn't go over very well, so I suggested getting tattoos...again, as a joke, but she got excited about the idea, and by extension so did I, and before I knew it we were in a local tattoo parlour nervously pacing back and forth, straining our ears just in case we heard screaming coming from the back room.
Okay, that last bit was just me.
We swung by Psycho Tattoo in Sandy Springs Georgia late on a Friday night, fully expecting them not to have any appointments available for the next several days. Well, I was fully expecting this, the scared-of-pain portion of my being trying to subconsciously sabotage the endeavor at every turn. As luck would have it there were two openings for the next day, so we put down a deposit and headed back to my apartment, dizzy with the possibilities...mainly because I hadn't thought this through.
Yes, I broke one of Flynn's rules. I had no idea what I wanted to get permanently drawn on my body. Not the where, not the what...I just had the when, and that would be tomorrow afternoon, so I had to get cracking.
My first choice was a Space Invader alien. Simple, small, elegant, and possibly tasteful. Recognised the world round as a video game icon. Pixels. Hmm. From those simple pixels my mind wandered to more complicated pixels. From Space Invaders to Galaga, Mario to Link, and finally (no pun intended), Final Fantasy. Flynn suggested the perfect gaming tattoo be something simple yet easily recognised by fellow gamers, so I decided to go with something that would forever brand me an RPG whore. The Black Mage. Holding up a tiny printout to my wrist, it felt good. Soon I would have my own little spellcasting buddy to talk to when things got lonely.
When we arrived at Psycho Tattoo the next afternoon we were informed that my girlfriend would be going first. The audible sigh of relief was probably not the manliest move, but come on, it was my first time. Hers too, but someone had to do it. She opted for a half-dollar sized heart at the base of her neck, which took all of 15 minutes. She barely felt a thing. This gave me hope. Surely my experience would be similar!
We're Gonna Need A Bigger Black Mage
Psycho Tattoo is the closest thing you'll get to a tattoo parlour chain, with several locations throughout Atlanta, all with a fine stable of artists. After spending a few moments in the waiting room, I met mine. Justin seemed a nice enough fellow, calm and confident, which I suppose is exactly what you want in a guy who would shortly be plunging a needle into your skin. I showed him my concept, which he took, going to the photocopier behind the counter and returning with a much larger Black Mage than I had intended.
Pixels, while simple enough to draw, are a bit harder to tattoo. Due to the way skin moves and ink gets absorbed, pixels need to be pretty big to be recognisable as pixels. My tiny tattoo just got a whole lot bigger. Justin took the picture in the back and traced it out, returning with an outline of the pixels that revealed a much more complicated job that I expected. He would have to trace all of those lines with as steady a hand as possibly and then fill them in with colour. How many lines?
That many lines. Oh boy. This was going to take more than 15 minutes.
Justin took the line drawing and created an ink transfer, which he then applied to my inner arm, creating an outline of the design on my skin for him to follow with ink. After about five minutes worth of drying, I was ushered into the back room, where he shaved my skin, set out his equipment, and prepared to get down to business.
Two things about the inner forearm. It's one of the more sensitive spots on the body, and in order for say, a tattoo artist to have access to it for an extended period of time, you have to twist your arm into the most uncomfortable position it can possibly rest in. Just a little FYI.
Two Hours Of Pain, All At Once, All For You
As Justin first placed the ink-dipped needle to my skin, I felt a pinch. A hard pinch. Like someone with neatly filed nails was pinching the skin and then pulling in the direction the needle is travelling. As he filled in the lines - so many lines - I whimpered, I have to admit. It wasn't agonising, and surely not torture, but not something you'd want to experience every day. Once the needle passed the skin felt like it had been precision burned, which made the fill in all that much more fun. The initial line work took around 30 to 45 minutes, during which my girlfriend ran to the Starbucks next door to get me a chai frappachino. Nothing takes your mind off tattoo pain like an intense ice cream headache - the only time I asked him to stop during the whole process.
Where's That Blood You Promised?
The blood didn't really start until Justin began filling in the colours. Then it welled up big time, and he had to wipe it away every 15 seconds or so to see what he was doing. I made good use of my camera's macro setting as he continued to draw the needle rapidly back and forth across my already burning skin. Two hours after initially sitting down I was done. I was given care instructions, paid my $125, and we were on our merry way, immediately heading over to my parent's house to show my mother what we had done to ourselves. She was most envious. God I love my mum.
But Wait, There's More
So great, now I have a tattoo! A colourful pal to sit on my arm and impress friends and strangers alike for the rest of my life, right? Well, not quite yet. You always see people on television and in movies leaving the tattoo parlour with freshly coloured skin, no problem. They never tell you about the proper care and handling of a tattoo. Or the scabbing.
Warning - some of the pictures coming up are not pretty.
There are basically two things you have to do for a new tattoo - keep it clean, and keep it moist. Most good tattoo parlours will have products on hand to get you started. I had to use special tattoo wax for the first several days before moving on to a scentless skin lotion.
Keeping it clean is a high priority, as infected tattoos are just nasty. On the sheet we were given, they placed especially strong emphasis on cat hair, which led to me being absolutely terrified of my cats for a good two weeks. I had visions of cat hair tumbling through the air in slow motion, lighting on my arm while I screamed "NO!" in slow motion, my arm exploding as it made con tact. For the first few nights I went to sleep with my arm straight up in the air, just in case they tried to cuddle.
While my girlfriend suffered only minor irritation, my tattoo felt like a sunburn for a few days, though that might have something to do with the whole shaving my arm bit. Then came the scabbing, and the peeling. Brace yourselves.
At least the scabs are colour coordinated? See, tattooing basically makes the top layers of skin die. You have to deal with a good week or two of cloudy, dead, zombie skin over your tat before the true colours come shining through, or in this case, peeling off.
It took a full two weeks before the scabs finally healed and flaked off, which was a period of total agony for me. I am scratcher and picker. I am poker and prodder. I am peeler of scabs wherever they may be found. I might also be Beowulf. The point is that as someone who doesn't suffer skin blemishes well, I was desperate to dig into my arm with my fingernails for the better part of two weeks. Towards the end I might have helped the process a long a little bit, but for the most part I behaved.
The Final Product
Now it's been about a month since I got inked, and as you can see my Black Mage has grown a fine head of hair, yet is still easily recognisable as the fantasy RPG icon that he so is. There was a bit of pain involved, and no small amount of frustration, and I'm definitely going to have to go back in for a touch-up, but all in all I am glad to be among the tattooed-gamer masses. Would I do it again? Oh I am. Black Mage needs friends.