Feature: Gaming Thoughts of a Self-Confessed Tattooligan
Posted by Damien McFerran
We talk to UK comedian and walking canvas Jim Smallman about his gaming heritage and why Nintendo will always have a special place in his heart
While most gamers show their love and appreciation for their hobby by tirelessly buying up software, hardware and official merchandise, there are a select few who decide to take their adoration a step further. One such individual is UK-based comedian Jim Smallman. Not content with being an award-winning chuckle-factory, Jim has given up his body in the name of art and allowed his skin to become a veritable treasure-trove of gaming goodness. We caught up with him as he prepares for his next Edinburgh Comedy Festival appearance, and asked him a few probing questions.
Nintendo Life: What inspired you to turn your body into a canvas?
Jim Smallman: I always liked tattoos when I was a kid as my uncle was covered in them. When my daughter was born I had my first one, and then many others followed as they're kind of addictive. And they've made me look at least 1000% cooler. Then I realised that I could have colourful, silly tattoos based on the things that I love and then other people would smile at them as well as me. I've always got plans for more silly ones as well.
Can you give us a run-down of all the gaming-related tattoos you have now?
The first gaming-related ink I got was a Pac-Man ghost (Blinky, the red one) on my right arm. There's actually a serious reason for it: My first childhood memory is being stood in an arcade in Weymouth, UK watching my Dad lose coin after coin playing Pac-Man. The most obvious gaming related tattoo I have is also my largest - my sleeve that takes up my entire left arm. I wanted a traditional sleeve of pin-up girls that reflected what a gaming geek I am. My friend and tattoo artist Gemma Osborn designed it, and I loved it - she's massively into games as well so really captured what I wanted. It features (deep breath): Peach, Zelda, Toadette, Midnah, Mortal Kombat's Kitana and dragon logo, Final Fantasy VII's Tifa, Darkstalkers' Felicia and Morrigan Aesland, a Dragon Quest Slime on my elbow and Chun Li. It took about 60 hours in total to finish. I've also added more Capcom characters onto the backs of my legs - Akuma / Gouki and Vega / Balrog (I'm geeky enough to reference them by their Japanese names most of the time).
Do you have any plans for future gaming-related ink additions?
I want to get Ryu and Ken on each of my shins, facing each other. Most of my back is pretty much blank at the moment, so I figure I can have a massive gaming related work of art on there eventually. The only problem that I'll have is deciding what to get - there are always too many options that I'd like!
Do you think attitudes towards tattoos and body art have changed over the past decade?
Definitely. My parents are quite traditional folk and they actually like my tattoos. I write for Skin Deep magazine and they have more readers than ever. I think with celebrities getting tattooed it has brought the whole thing into the mainstream. I remember being a kid and the only person I knew with tattoos was my uncle, whereas now it's more the norm for me to know people who have them rather than not. Even my mum got one for her 50th birthday! I must point out though that despite being in my thirties and being covered from head to toe in ink that I'm still not allowed to have my ears pierced...
You're a lifelong gamer yourself - how did you get into gaming?
It was the influence of my Dad that got me started. I mentioned him playing Pac-Man before, then when I was 5 years old he bought the family a Commodore 64. From that point onwards I spent all my free time playing games. I think I've owned just about every console ever invented, and am now educating my 7 year old daughter in the art of gaming. I can report that she is currently very good at Mario Kart and Rock Band.
From a Nintendo perspective, what are the pivotal moments in your gaming life?
My first Nintendo memory was buying a second hand NES from a car boot sale as a present for my sister, and then blatantly stealing it for my own use. I was addicted to Mega Man and Excitebike. I then graduated to the SNES and spent far too much money on games like Super Star Wars, Mortal Kombat 2 and International Superstar Soccer. I loved the N64 and still have a GameCube knocking about in my house in case I feel like playing Resident Evil 4. Now the Wii is playing a pivotal part in the gaming life of both me and my daughter.
Is it true that you've recently purchased an N64?
Yes! My N64 was my Christmas present from my sister. I wanted it specifically for certain games that I spent my time at university playing and I'd certainly recommend them - NBA Hangtime, Goldeneye, Mario 64 and WWF No Mercy. It's great that they're all as brilliant as I remember and gameplay-wise they stand up against anything else that is being released today.
If you had to take five Nintendo games to a desert island, which ones would they be and why?
Super Mario World (SNES) - I still rate this as the greatest ever Mario game, and arguably the greatest game ever made. Once a year I'll dust off my SNES and play it through from beginning to end yet again.
WarioWare Touched (DS) - This just never gets old. I may have unlocked everything in the game but you can still see me on trains regularly shouting at the screen as I fail to tickle a pixellated man quick enough.
Super Tennis (SNES) - It doesn't matter how great tennis games look on the latest consoles, this remains the greatest tennis game ever made and something that I can still play for hours without getting bored. It's also a great example of how to get the difficulty level of a game absolutely correct with a perfect learning curve.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) - I think I spent a good 6 months of my time at school completing this game 100%, exploring every little last secret that I could find. Frustrating at times, but massive and utterly brilliant.
J-League Perfect Striker (N64) - I spent around £100 getting this imported when it was first released, and it still holds great memories for me. All the joy of International Superstar Soccer 64 but slightly quicker, with better AI and with Japanese teams, kits and commentary.
What would you regard to be your all-time favourite video game?
As you may have guessed from my tattoos, I'm a bit of a 2D fighting fan-boy. Dependent on my mood, it can be pretty much any of the Capcom canon that is my favourite - from Street Fighter 2 on the SNES all the way through obscure Japanese imports to Marvel vs Capcom 3. I think if I had to choose, I'd probably go with Capcom vs SNK 2 for the sheer choice of characters.
You're a stand-up comedian by trade - what are your comedy plans for 2011?
I'm off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August to do my new show Tattooligan. I've even been silly enough to have that tattooed on my stomach as an ill-advised publicity stunt. I'm also filming my first DVD in my hometown of Leicester on September 29th at the Highlight club. Plus I spend every week roaming around the country performing all over the place - you can check out my website for more details. I'm always happy to talk gaming with audience members after gigs!