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An arm with a Triforce tattoo and some flowers Photo: Nathalia de Matos

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Everyone’s got a Triforce tattoo

How the symbol became so ubiquitous

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

There’s more to the Triforce than just a few triangles. It’s a symbol for power, courage, and wisdom — the ultimate source of strength and influence. It’s been in every Zelda game since The Legend of Zelda was released in Japan in 1986 — though in the first game, Link was only in search of two, the Triforce of Wisdom and the Triforce of Power. But it was Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link where Nintendo first introduced the motif into the game, symbolically bringing together the individual triangles into the iconic Triforce.

In 2023, Polygon is embarking on a Zeldathon. Join us on our journey through The Legend of Zelda series, from the original 1986 game to the release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and beyond.

It’s so simple but easily recognizable. You can identify a Triforce holder by the glowing seal of light on their hand, a visual shorthand for all that Link stands for. It was practically made to be a tattoo — an actual tattoo, scratched into skin with needles and ink.

And so it’s no surprise that Triforce tattoos are one of the most popular gaming tattoos. One tattoo artist estimated he’d done more than 60 in a single year. It’s hard to overstate the ubiquity of the Triforce tattoo; you’ve surely seen them don arms and legs locally, and there are pages and pages of Triforce tattoos on Google and in Reddit threads. Thousands of people have tagged images on Instagram with #triforcetattoo. There are jokes, too: “Tattoo Parlor Refuses to Do Swastikas, Iron Crosses, and Triforces,” reads one facetious jab at the iconography.

A close-up of Link’s hand in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The three triangles that comprise the Triforce glow through his glove, with the top triangle glowing the brightest.
The Triforce on Link’s hand in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Image: Nintendo

The four tattoo artists I spoke to agreed it’s an immensely popular option — one tattoo artist even has seven Triforce tattoos speckling their body. Beyond the popularity of the games, tattoo artist Kim Hikaru said Triforce tattoos are more accessible; a simple one can cost less, take less time to do, and can be easily hidden.

“A good icon to tattoo is simple in design,” tattoo artist Jess Soares told Polygon. “It’s something that can be seen from far away and makes you go, Hey! Is that a Zelda tattoo? The Triforce definitely does that.”

A faint Triforce tattoo on a person’s hand Photo: Sabrina Camacho

Sabrina Camacho, an artist who tattoos at Snowbird Studio in Austin, Texas, agreed: “The Triforce is such recognizable and subtle iconography,” they said. “I think people get Triforce tattoos because they’re all-encompassing. Everyone has their first Zelda game, the Zelda game they spent the most time replaying as a kid, and their favorite Zelda game of all time. And the Triforce is the icon that connects them all — throughout all of the lore, art styles, and characters, it stays.”

This often gives the Triforce tattoo a deeply personal significance to those who have one. Nathalia de Matos, a 33-year-old medical lab technician in New Zealand, said the games have a close connection to her family; she played The Legend of Zelda with her parents and siblings when she was about 4, having just moved from Brazil to the United States. “The earliest example I have is from a home video that my mother took of me and my siblings watching and cheering on my father whilst he played the first Legend of Zelda,” she said. The games continued to play a role in her life as “a source of escapism,” she said. “The tattoo was a way for me to give thanks for the comfort that the franchise provided throughout my childhood and into my late 20s.” It’s her only tattoo.

Hikaru, the tattoo artist, said he had a client who got the Triforce tattoo after he survived cancer; the courage triangle is glowing, the rest all gray.

There’s a sense of community among people who have Triforce tattoos. Playing video games is sometimes talked about as a loner hobby, a person alone with the glow of a screen and a hard plastic controller. There’s truth to that, but video games also bring people together — in online communities sharing tips and tricks; in parks battling in Pokémon Go; huddled around a screen, stuffed on a couch and spilling out onto the floor; and yes, perhaps, in pointing at your Triforce tattoo while passing someone on the street in a Zelda shirt.

A woman laying on a Gengar Squishmallow, propped up by a tattooed arm. Photo: Nicole Carpenter/Polygon

I didn’t intend to get a Triforce tattoo. I’d booked an appointment to get a portrait of Zelda, though — an American traditional style ladyhead. The tattoo artist, familiar with the games, asked if I wanted to slap it in an empty spot on my arm alongside the original tattoo. I shrugged and said sure. I am a walking poster child for the idea that tattoos, while permanent, don’t have to have deeper significance or meaning. You can simply like a design, or a game, or a book, and get art of it inked into your body. I love the game and the design so I got it. Still, I see how powerful the symbol can be: So many people have come up to me, a total stranger, to talk about it. Sometimes it’s just, “Hey, I like that game, too!” but other times it’s a short, meaningful story.

“It makes me happy that people found some solace and community with Legend of Zelda and the Triforce symbolism,” Nicholas Jakic, a 30-year-old construction salesperson, told Polygon. “I love when people point mine out and say that they like it and then show off theirs too. It is a very fun connection to have. I think most of the time it’s a very levelheaded way of connecting.”

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