Tattoos: The Best Ink in Video Games

Key Points

  • Tattoos in video games have an underrated but noteworthy reputation.

  • There are a few characters who have the best tattoos in video games.

  • Video games are a major source of inspiration for tattoo artists.

  • Whether you’re a game developer or a fan, you can gain some fantastic design ideas.

Evidence suggests humans have been tattooing themselves as early as 5000 BCE. Humankind’s fascination with expressing themselves naturally extends to doing so through their bodies. Whether that’s dance, art, or even turning bodies into art, human expression is guaranteed. Video gaming is much younger than tattoos but fast forward seven thousand years and it’s likely you’ll find some goblin-mode dude grinding Halo 2’s campaign on Legendary on some archaic CRT TV. But as tattoos are an ancient human custom, it begs the question of their representation in games and what the best tattoos in video games are.

What characters have the best ink? What do fans tattoo on their bodies? What are the best tattoos in video games? Read on to find out. 

Men with tattoos playing video games

Characters With the Best Ink

A discussion of notable tattooed characters in the industry is a good start. While it’s not precisely known which character was the first to don tattoos in games (if you have an idea of who, hop down into the comments, please), there are plenty of iconic characters known for their tattoos, and it's guaranteed some game developers took inspiration for their own tattoos. 

Ellie From The Last of Us Part II 

As the face of one of the most noteworthy series of the twenty-first century, Ellie’s tattoo in The Last of Us Part II serves several functions. Due to her immunity to the cordyceps infection, the design covers the bite mark she sustained years earlier. Thematically, the tattoo has a particular resonance.

Created by California-based tattoo artist Natalie Hall, the image is that of a moth encircled by ferns. The moth seems to bear resemblance to a firefly, a possible nod to the freedom-fighting resistance in the series. The tattoo also resembles destruction and violence at the same time, however, and if you’ve completed the game you understand why.  

“There’s this idea of obsession and being drawn to a light and constantly pursuing this thing,” director Neil Druckman stated of the moth image in a Part II interview for the Washington Post. This idea eventually also inspired the loading screen of the game mirroring the spores of the original game. “[J]ust moths being drawn to a light…it felt like a sister image.”  

This tattoo might be the most relevant to a story’s design discussed here. That is why many fans have decided to get the same tattoo inked themselves — just check out Reddit and you’ll believe it yourself. The Last of Us series adaptation on HBOMax is also worth checking out. 

Kratos From God of War

You had to know that Kratos was going to be on this list. Kratos is among the most metal characters in gaming history, his skin being stained by the ashes of his dead wife and child after all. His tattoos also are indicative of tragic loss representing the birthmarks of his brother Deimos. 

In the game’s story, Deimos is abducted by the Greek pantheon and his death is the catalyst for Kratos’s quest for vengeance against the Gods. As a reminder of what he has lost, Kratos adorns his tattoo to resemble Deimos’s birthmarks. 

Simple but striking, Kratos’s tattoos are bloodred solid lines, one extending from his left eye and moving down his bare head and becoming thicker down his back. The other lightly spirals from his left shoulder and down to his left ribs. There are other smaller patches of red on his right arm. These red lines on his dust-gray skin cause the tattoos to pop — especially in the latest entries which take place in Norse-inspired Midgard. God of War Ragnarök is out now on PS5.

Kratos video game character from God of War   

Vega From Street Fighter

The three-pronged claw, the mask, and the snake tattoo make Vega’s getup as iconic as any character in this long-lived series. Vega is a Spanish ninja and bullfighter, a truly potent combo (fighting game pun fully intended).

After witnessing his ugly stepfather kill his mother, Vega killed him in turn and developed a dual personality — a rich autocrat by day and a serial killer by night. Obsessed with the idea of beauty, Vega’s goal is to purge ugliness in all things and people by any means necessary. The camp here is honestly so absurd, it’s actually amazing. 

Vega, or as he is known by the community, Claw, has a purple snake tattoo on his chest that extends into his left arm. In some games, the tattoo even becomes animated and hisses. When contrasted with his skin and the opal of his mask, Vega’s ink is an instant reference point for the best video game tattoos. 

Jack From The Mass Effect Trilogy

First appearing in Mass Effect 2, fans of the series remember Jack and her intimidating appearance. She has tattoos from head to toe, impressively patterned, multi-purposed for aesthetics, and, according to her, each one of them tells a story: prison stints, the kill worth remembering, and things that only she knows and doesn’t choose to share. And of course, the ones she got for the hell of it. 

If you know Jack, these tattoos and appearances perfectly complement her character. “I already knew she was going to be a jagged pill for some because she wasn’t traditionally gorgeous, she wasn’t subservient, she’s got attitude, she’s bald,” voice actress Courtenay Taylor says

Jack has proven to be one of the more beloved characters in the franchise. A decade after the Mass Effect trilogy concluded, she still remains in the top ten of favorite character lists of fans everywhere.  

Jack video game character from The Mass Effect Photo source: Google.com

Hanzo From Overwatch

Even though he is the most memed sniper in hero shooters, Hanzo is popular with tattoo artists around the globe. His tattoo comes from the legend of his family name, the Shimada, one of two dragon brothers. A sleeve starting from his left chest down to his wrist, the tattoo is that of a dragon flying through storm clouds and is also connected to his in-game ultimate, “Dragonstrike,” which also features two dragons.  

Hanzo and his brother Genji are emblematic of this dragon brothers' story. In Overwatch’s world, the Shimada ninja clan has operated for hundreds of years. When their father passes, Hanzo is pushed to bring Genji into subordination by the clan’s elders which leads to a confrontation. After being forced to kill his brother, Hanzo enters into exile. He now wanders the globe trying to reconcile his actions. 

Hanzo’s sleeve is intricate and draws influence from East Asian and Japanese folklore. This has proven popular with the game's international player base with iterations on millions of fans' skins.  

A Non-Comprehensive List of Popular Patterns

While it’s difficult to say what the most popular video games are to get tattooed, some assumptions can be made. The following are frequent requests for tattoo artists around the globe. 

Mario

What more can be said of Mario besides that he’s the King of Gaming?

As is the case with any distinct series, Mario features mushrooms, coins, green pipes, and hundreds of characters and locations. Whether you started playing in 1981 or 2021, you’ll have plenty to think about when visiting a parlor. Whether you want to get Mario on a kart or a Bullet Bill with flames, there’s no shortage of great tattoo ideas stemming from this series and likely plenty of fun questions about what inspired you to do it.  

Mario tattoos Photo source: Google.com

The Legend of Zelda 

If Mario is gaming’s Superman, Link would be gaming’s Batman. There’s no sidekick in this scenario, just sister cities. Despite people continually calling him Zelda, Link and his series have a recognizable art style. Thousands of tattoos have been inspired by the series’ Triforce: three golden triangles shaped into a larger triangle. 

As a source of power, wisdom, and courage, the Triforce spurs the story forward, and the characters are willing to kill for it. More game-specific tattoos naturally evolve from this point. If you’re over 25 and have played Ocarina of Time, you’ll quickly recognize someone’s Master Sword or a sky-blue ocarina on their shoulder. Zelda’s impact has been felt the world over.   

Donkey Kong

1981’s Donkey Kong was the game that started Nintendo on the path to being the force of cultural zeitgeist it is today. Ironically enough, he famously wasn’t the protagonist of the game. Mario was. Since then, Donkey Kong has gotten several of his own platformers released to critical acclaim and plenty of tattoo inspiration. 

The Donkey Kong Country series by Rare Studios is credited for modernizing and refreshing his look. In turn, this look that gave him his tie has been tattooed on millions of fans everywhere. Whether that’s golden bananas, jungles, bodybuilder and armored crocodiles, or the esteemed tie-wearing gorilla, he’s the leader of the bunch and you know him well.   

Halo

One of Halo’s strongest appeals is its art design. You throw Master Chief on any Burger King promo, Doritos bag, or Mountain Dew can, and even your grandmother will say “Isn’t that the Halo guy?” 

What especially benefits Halo’s tattoo market is the early games' minimalist designs and logos. Plenty of early gamers recognize a ring logo or a Mark of Shame that Arbiter was branded with. ODST pods, classic vehicles, and weapons like the energy sword or the battle rifle are all options for Spartans and Elites to express themselves. Don’t believe it? Halo 2’s release date was literally announced with a tattoo

Tattoos from Halo video game Photo source: Google.com

Final Fantasy

You might be seeing a trend here, and you’re not mistaken. Games for Nintendo systems have inspired lots of fan-favorite tattoos. Final Fantasy does deviate a little as its most popular title, Final Fantasy VII, was the first game not originally released on the Nintendo but for the PlayStation. 

Final Fantasy has created thousands of unique characters, but none are as popular as VII’s Cloud Strife. His spiky blonde hair and giant broadsword are often featured in long parlor sessions. Other popular characters tattooed are Sephiroth, Red XIII, and Aerith, but if you’re wondering what games besides VII get decent representation, it’s likely Final Fantasy X. Tidus’s sword is definitely cool.  

Pokémon

Pokémon is one of the highest-valued brands in the world, and its visual language plays no small part in that. Everyone recognizes Pikachu immediately followed by gen one starters like Squirtle, Charmander, and Bulbasaur. Newer gen standouts like Grookey, Umbreon, and Greninja also come to mind. 

Since the series has been around for nearly 30 years, there is plenty of inspiration for tattoos. Whether you want to get your ideal lineup as a sleeve or a Pokéball on your leg, Pokémon has plenty of images to play with.  

Inked tattoos of Pokemon characters Photo source: Google.com

It’s Dangerous To Go Alone! Take This

Before you decide to get a tattoo, consider what a tattoo means to you. To some, it’s just for fun; to others, it’s an expression of what you love to do; and for another group of people it's a commemoration of some event or thing. 

Gaming provides an endless stream of possibilities for you to consider, and if you’re feeling bold, some parlors might offer flash tattoos of popular series. Going custom is almost always worth the money, though.

When you’re considering what kind of tattoo to get, think about where you want it, how large you want it to be, and how much pain you’re willing to endure as getting ink done and the healing process is always painful. Minimalist tattoos are attractive for this reason, too.

When you’ve decided what tattoo to get, do some research. Find an artist whose style complements your vision and talk with them about how to make your tattoo unique. Be sure to check if their personality meshes with yours since you’re likely to spend an extended time with them. They literally will have your skin in their hands.  

Do you have any video game tattoos? No matter what your style is, be prepared to show it off!

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