Whether you're tatted IRL or not, you have to admit you've pondered the best tattoos in games.
Tattoos are a great way to add realism to a world, or give a character an interesting backstory, or just make it very clear that they're a badass. With the updated graphics of new-gen consoles making characters look more realistic than ever, tattoos in games have come a long way from pixelated anchors or a name emblazoned across a chest (although Johnny Cage's tattoo is iconic). Some games, like the Yakuza series, even hire real-life tattoo artists to draw their in-game ink.
Contemporary games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin's Creed Valhalla even let you customize your character's tattoos, offering myriad ways to get tatted up in the virtual world. Still, some of gaming's best tattoos come from previous console generations and worlds like Mass Effect and Borderlands.
Tattoo culture and video game culture are intertwined, and as GamesRadar's resident Tattooed Person, it only makes sense that I judge the best tattoos in games.
Jack - Mass Effect series
An icon when it comes to tattooed game characters, Jack from Mass Effect has some of the coolest ink both in games and out of them. Not only is she covered head to toe (and I mean covered - there's not a lot of free real estate here), but every single one of her tattoos points to her tragic backstory. Thanks to The Art of Mass Effect Universe book, we know that Jack's tattoos are deeply connected to her life - and are a visual reminder of her badassery. The black skeletons going down her arms are meant to represent how many guards she's killed and how, as the red circles and lines show where she landed a killing blow. Stars and ticks represent her years spent imprisoned, teardrops represent the gang members she's taken down, and an asari family name hints at her origins.
If you want to see her tattoos in all their glory, you should probably check out Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.
Eivor - Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a great example of how tattoos can make character customization so much more fun. Eivor can go to to her village's tattoo artist and change up her ink, finding new designs along the way. The only reason I do those annoying "chase the paper" quests is so that I can get new tattoo designs, and they're often worth the hassle.
There's tons of tattoo designs available, with five different placement options: head, chest, left arm, right arm, and back. The tattoos include Viking runes, Norse emblems, and other historically accurate imagery. Some of them look more like body paint, but still give off incredibly cool (and intimidating vibes). And the best thing is, with the head tats and some arm tats extending to the fingers, you can see Eivor's ink even when she's donning full armor.
Kratos - God Of War series
You can't have a best tattoos in games list without Kratos, whose swirling crimson ink can make or break a cosplay. And like many of us who get tattoos, there's meaning in this ink - in God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Kratos believes his brother Deimos has been killed by Ares and Athena. In memory of him, and as a reminder to never get caught slipping again, Kratos tattooed himself in a pattern that mimicked Deimos' rather unusual birthmark. Kratos has some of the most striking tattoos ever depicted in a game, and trust me, I've seen tattoos like this in real life - they're wild.
The newest God of War has some other fantastic tattoos, including Atreus' finger tats and Baldur's incredible tattoos. Sony Santa Monica must have some tattoo fans at the studio...
Judy Alvarez - Cyberpunk 2077
Judy Alvarez is tattooed in a way that is currently very popular in the tattoo world, a kind of piecemeal, sticker-looking style that evokes flash sheets hanging in tattoo shops. Her tattoos are gathered in random groups dispersed across her body, with several different styles represented. There's some American traditional or neo-traditional style tattoos, like the roses interspersed all over her body or the shark on her flank. There's also quite a few bits of text on her body, both quotes and random numbers and letters. Her tattoos are either black or red, which evokes a tattoo style called trash polka
Agent 47 - Hitman series
My man has a barcode tattooed on his head. Is there anything else that needs to be said about this?
I've seen barcode tattoos IRL before, and while they don't mean the tattooed person is the 47th clone in a long line of expert assassins, it does usually mean they have a great sense of humor. So there's that.
Kazuma Kiryu - Yakuza series
Tattoos and Japan have a very complicated relationship, with ink often associated with members of yakuza. While not everyone who has tattoos in Japan is a gang member, yakuza members in media are almost always covered in ink. Kazuma Kiryu of the Yakuza series is no exception, and his intricate back piece is one of the best tattoos in games, featuring a massive Japanese traditional dragon swathed in red smoke across his entire backside. His ink looks so good because Japanese traditional tattoo artist Horimoto was brought in by Sega to design all of Yakuza's ink - and that attention to detail shows.
Kiryu's tattoos are even realistically depicted in terms of stages - in case you've never been tattooed, you might not know that you rarely ever get a huge tattoo all in one sitting. Oftentimes artists will go in and do a black outline in several sessions before even touching the skin with color, and in Yakuza 0 you can see that both Kiryu and Akira Nishikiyama have only the outlines finished on their pack pieces. How cool is that?
Faith - Mirror's Edge
Faith in Mirror's Edge has some immaculate style, and that extends to her body art. Like all runners (the game's illegal couriers), Faith has a "tag", or a tattoo that delineates her as someone who can transport your documents without getting snagged by the bad guys. But Faith went a step further and got her runner's tag tattooed around her eye as well, putting my feeble attempts at graphic eyeliner to shame.
Lilith - Borderlands series
Lilith is pretty badass, and her tattoos are no exception - although it certainly seems like all the Borderlands sirens have similar ink. The swirling blue tattoos are a representation of their powers and therefore a marker of the siren. Since only six can exist at a time, it saves them the awkwardness of walking into a bar and seeing someone else has the exact same tattoo as them, which happens to so many of us who thought the Deathly Hallows was a brilliant ink choice.
Slight spoiler for Borderlands 3: A cool siren tattoo bit is when Lilith is sapped of her powers by the baddies in Borderlands 3 and her tattoos transfer over to them. Lovely little bit of design, that.
If you enjoy character customization as much as you enjoy tattoos, check out list of the best RPGs you can play right now.