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How To Be a Geek – Tattoos

How to be a Geek
Part 1: Tattoos
I want to be the ultimate geek – the ultimate fan. I want to be the fan who knows more about my particular interest than the creators of said interest. I want to devote my entire life to obsessing over Lord of the Rings, or Halo, or Mass Effect. I want to be Jessica Merizan; a fan so geeky that BioWare hired her to manage other fans.

Unfortunately, I have very little artistic talent, and I have student debt. I have to work my full time job building nuclear submarines for the Navy, because money makes the world go ’round. Long story short, I don’t have the time to devote my entire life to Dragon Age, as much as I may want to. I’ve been in a constant state of war with my wants and needs since I saw Lord of the Rings in December of 2001 (I can trace the birth of my geek-itude to that exact time frame). Over the last 13.5 years, I’ve developed other ways to cope; some methods have worked, some haven’t, but in case other people out there struggle the same way I do, maybe my mechanisms will work for you (and yes, I know, that is a very serious First World Problem).

I’ve loved tattoos since I understood what they were. I worked out a deal with my parents, who hate permanent ink: when I got my own health insurance, I could get as many tattoos as I wanted. So throughout college, instead of studying, I started working out what I wanted to put and where. Two days after I started my first job, I switched off of my parents’ insurance plan and got my own. Some people get tattoos with barely a second thought, but for me, my tattoos had to fulfill a few necessities.

1: They have to represent something that’s had a huge impact on my life

I’ve been obsessed with many, many things over the years, but in order to carve it into my flesh, I decided it has to be something that sticks with me for years. My first tattoo, the Valknut, represented my obsession with Vikings. This particular obsession has gone on for seven or so years, and even after the initial “Ooh, sparkly!” phase faded, I’m still in love with Viking culture.

2: They have to be somewhere I can hide them

I work for a government contractor, so I have to look semi-professional on a daily basis. I can’t have ink plastered across my neck and face, so the tattoo has to be somewhere I can easily hide it. Under clothing works best, but it’s okay if it peeks out a bit, like on an ankle.

3: They have to look good when I’m in my 80s

Okay, maybe not good – nothing looks good when you’re an octogenarian – but the tattoo can’t look absurd. Tramp stamps are completely out of the question.

4: Preferably, they have to be somewhere that won’t hurt like hell to get stabbed repeatedly

My first tattoo was on my scapula. Most people will tell you that tattooing over a bone is the worst. I can concur. That first one was agonizing. Thankfully, my ankle tattoo wasn’t too bad, because I was smart enough to put it above the main bone. But a rib piece is also out of the question.

The Valknut, symbol of the slain warrior

The Valknut, symbol of the slain warrior

I have a few preferable traits, as well. The image needs to be something that isn’t so obscure that no one will recognize it. I love that tattoos start conversations, so I want something that will help other geeks identify me. I was trying on a new pair of shoes the other day when the salesman caught a peak of my ankle and said “Is that a Mass Effect tattoo?!” like it was the greatest thing in the world. And that recognition was one of the greatest things in the world (right behind the fact that Steve Downes, the voice actor for Master Chief, has his own radio talk show).

Based on my prerequisites, I have two tattoos now, and I have another two planned. My first, as I explained, is the Valknut on my back left shoulder. I chose the left because of a really, really obscure pagan reference. The left side used to represent the feminine side of humanity, while the right represented the male. The Church took that meaning and made the feminine side “evil.” In fact, the word “sinister” means left. So, in my subtle FU to the Church and organized religion, I’ve always favored the left side over the right.

My second tattoo is Mass Effect’s N7. I’ve been into Mass Effect since 2008. Although I’ve been into other fandoms longer than that (I’m looking at you, Halo), Mass Effect is done. After speaking with Patrick Weekes, a lead BioWare writer, I confirmed that Shepard’s story is really over. Regardless of how you interpret the ending of Mass Effect 3, I like Shepard’s story and I don’t have to worry about the writers adding something I don’t like (which I can’t guarantee for Halo). The story’s been over for three years, and I still love it. That makes Mass Effect a perfect candidate for a tattoo.

Once I decided that I wanted a Mass Effect tattoo, though, the next step was deciding what type. As you may have noticed, I prefer symbols over words. The Valknut is a great symbol representing my love of Vikings, but I had a hard time finding one symbol that represented Mass Effect. I considered the Alliance emblem, but I don’t really like the Alliance. I thought they were pretty big dicks in the first game. The Spectre symbol seemed like a great candidate, but the Spectres are agents of the Council, who are one of the galaxy’s biggest dicks, behind the Reapers and Cerberus, so that symbol was out. After Mass Effect 2 came out, I wanted the Cerberus symbol. Sadly, as we saw in Mass Effect 3, they’re also very big dicks (lots of dicks in the Mass Effect galaxy…oh the images that brings to mind). There were the Paragon/Renegade symbols, but I felt like those didn’t really represent Mass Effect as a whole, so I finally settled on N7. This is also probably the only tattoo that will have color. I prefer simple black lines, but you can’t really do N7 justice in just black.

Tattoos act like sunburns for the first few weeks, so this looks like crap because it’s currently peeling. Yup, being repeatedly stabbed can be gross.

Tattoos act like sunburns for the first few weeks, so this looks like crap because it’s currently peeling. Yup, being repeatedly stabbed can be gross.

I probably rushed this one, but timing plays a big part in tattooing. For the first few weeks after you get inked, you can’t go swimming, because the water will destroy the tattoo. So getting a tattoo mid-summer, especially when you’re a water nut like me, is a bad idea. Also, too much sun can bleach a tattoo. This is true over the lifetime of a tattoo, but is especially true for the first few weeks. Regardless, I really wanted to show this one off at the beach this summer, so I had a very small window of time to get it done before beach season starts.

I like to test out my tattoos before I get them. Last summer, I had a friend draw my (hoped for) Halo tattoo with a sharpie while on vacation, and I loved walking around in my swimsuit with it. For the last few weeks, I’ve been drawing N7 on my ankle with a sharpie to make sure I loved it. And after looking at it for weeks, I finally decided I couldn’t wait.

The Reclaimer symbol

The Reclaimer symbol

What’s next, then? As I mentioned, Halo isn’t finished. I can’t guarantee that 343 Industries won’t take the story somewhere stupid. I’ve seen it happen in plenty of other fandoms. I’ve tried convincing myself that even if they do, I can still look back at the first four games and be content that they were amazing, but I don’t fully believe myself yet, so I have to wait. I’ll probably get it after Halo 5 comes out to confirm that Halo 4 wasn’t beginner’s luck for 343 Industries. And once that’s confirmed? I’m getting the Reclaimer symbol, with a twist.

The Eld

The Eld

I actually got this variation idea by searching “Halo Reclaimer tattoos” on google. Someone else noticed that the Reclaimer symbol has a perfect circle inside it, and the Eld, another Forerunner symbol, is itself a perfect circle. So, Reclaimer + Eld works pretty well. These two symbols represent the Forerunners, my favorite species in Halo. They try to uphold the Mantle, a philosophy that protects and nurtures life. It was perversion of this philosophy that led to the Flood, and the main conflict in Halo. It’s a perfect mix of obscure and obvious that will ensure real Halo fans will recognize it, and hopefully start fantastic conversations.

Thanks, random shirtless guy, for a great idea!

Thanks, random shirtless guy, for a great idea!

The ironic part of all of this is that I still don’t really know what I want for a Lord of the Rings tattoo. After all, LotR started all of this. It’s LotR’s fault I was bullied in elementary school (turns out, telling your classmate that you’re a wood elf is a BAD idea), and it’s LotR that made me the geek I am today. So it should be pretty obvious that I would get a LotR tattoo. However, somehow I’m still stuck without a tattoo to represent this part of my inner geek. There are two poems in Fellowship of the Ring that I love: One is the longest segment of Elvish Tolkien wrote in any of his works, and the other talks about the heartbreak the elves feel while leaving Middle Earth. Both poems appear side by side at the very end of Return of the King. That’s a little more than perfect, and will be the only tattoo with words (I’m not counting N7) that I get. But where? In what shape? The elvish poem is transliterated in the book, but I want it in Tengwar. Unfortunately, I have no artistic skill. Do I want just a block of text, or should I have the words form a shape? If so, what shape? I’m not getting a butterfly tattoo…that’s a little too cliché.

Something like this, but in a sneakier place.

Something like this, but in a sneakier place.

These are all things I’m not worrying about right now. I’ve been obsessed with LotR for so long that it’s become a part of who I am. I don’t need to mark it on my body (yet) to know I’m a crazy LotR fan. I needed to for Mass Effect and Vikings, and will shortly need to for Halo. I know that lately all I’ve been talking about has been Dragon Age, but that obsession hasn’t even lasted half a year yet. I have a long way to go before I know for sure that Dragon Age deserves to be carved into my body.

So what can you take away from all of this? One way I’ve found to be a serious geek is to get permanent tattoos. These are lasting pieces of geekdom that will be with me for the rest of my life, showing the world how dedicated I am to my obsessions. It takes me years and years of love and forethought before I get a tattoo, and hopefully other fans will recognize my dedication, and will engage with me in our mutual love.

Please note, I am in no way endorsing the act of repeatedly stabbing yourself with fancy colors. Tattoos are a lifelong commitment, and as with any surgical or cosmetic procedure, they carry risks of blood-borne diseases and infection. Make sure to THINK before you get one, and make sure to pick a reputable tattoo artist. The random guy on the street may seem cheap, but you won’t think so when you face a $500 emergency room bill because he gave you a staph infection with a dirty needle.

This post was written by guest editor Rhydnara.

About Rhydnara

Rhydnara Sveinsdottir is a ninth century Viking Jarl who took power from her brother after her father died in a hall burning. In her free time, she enjoys obsessing over BioWare games (at the moment Dragon Age Inquisition) and playing with her demon dog, Brynhild. In her not spare time, she designs nuclear submarines for the Navy.

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