Since 2012 Conan O’Brien has been rating video games, even though he doesn’t actually play video games, doesn’t have even a scintilla of working knowledge about video games, and doesn’t appear to have even a baseline level of hand-eye coordination required to dispatch even the weakest pawn of a foe in video games.
In that way, he’s an everyman. And because of that, he’s able to poke fun at games in a way that can be understood by both gamers and non-gamers alike. (And ‘gamers’ as a label has unfortunately taken a hit over the years because of Gamergate. But not every video gamer is a 4Chan douchenozzle misogynist shitbird <—- if you missed this TK story, click the link and read it because it’s awesome).
So, which camp are you in?
According to a 2015 study by the Entertainment Software Association, which I guess is a thing, more than 42% of Americans play some sort of video game, which includes everything from online games to console to things you mess around with on your phone. That’s 155 million people in America alone.
Didn’t know that video games were such big business? Grand Theft Auto V, which launched in 2013 has made…wait for it…6 BILLION dollars. With a B. That makes it the most profitable single piece of media in history. That’s more than Star Wars.
So it’s no shocker that a pop culture afficionado like Conan would want to horn in on a piece of that sweet, sweet video game action.
In that way, ‘Clueless Gamer’ was born. A hot take platform for Conan’s comedy as he languishes, lost in a digital universe that has evolved in profound ways as he was busy not noticing. His sensei of sorts is Aaron Bleyaert, a likeable techie who does his best work being Conan’s guide, straight man, and sometime punching bag.
Not unlike a sitcom trying to find it’s feet, ‘Clueless Gamer’ bumps pretty hard out of the gate as they try to find their angle. Initially, they begin by playing the games —poorly — and trying to extract some comedy from that. Some of it is physical, some just riffing. It’s a pretty high bar to clear, even for someone as naturally gifted as Conan. Watching someone suck at video games can be fun, but it was like Conan’s wit was wasted.
They start to find their stride when Bleyaert, whom Conan calls ‘Bley,’ takes some time to curate the game more and serve as an ambassador of sorts for the gaming industry, solidifying O’Brien in the role of defined outsider. For example, when Bleyaert fills Conan in on the nerd-loving backstory of a game, Conan can respond with exaggerated eye rolls, head shaking and some biting retorts. It works.
I used to have a friend who HATED video games. Just loathed them and loathed me when I played them. And he would sit behind me at my desk as I was playing online with other friends and just mock me viciously. He would approximate the voice of a spit-filled nerdmouth and would address me as “Red Leader.”
I’d be playing online with a group of friends from around the country and he would just rip everything I’d say.
ME: (Into headset) Okay everyone, I think we’re ready to take Frostfire.
MY FRIEND: (Behind me, talking with manufactured spit-lisp) This is Red Leader. Okay chums! We’ve come a long way but this is the big one.
ME: I tried this with The Irish Curse the other day and we got smoked.
MF: It was gruesome. I can barely speak of it in mixed company. But now we’re at DEFCON 2. Set dork phasers to ‘lonely.’
ME: We really need four people for this mission.
MF: I think I’ve analyzed the data correctly and…yes…my supercomputer has just spit out the proper team configuration. We also need one robot or otherwise androidian life form.
ME: When we go in, make sure to stay off the ice.
MF: It’s made of the tears of virgins.
ME: If you accidentally get on the ice, you’ll slide across the room and into the boss and the whole room will aggro you at the same time.
MF: We certainly don’t want THAT to happen! SNORT SNORT. (Adjusts invisible glasses) But seriously, I AM a virgin and my balls are filled with tiny, angry gnomes.
ME: We’re going to head through the door and take a sharp right and stay there. We’ll pick off the groups of adds one by one and clear the room first before we pop the boss.
MF: You guys get the feeling we’re living our best life here? Like if we finally defeat Firestorm-
ME: (to him) It’s actually Frostfire.
MF: OH OH YETH OF COURTH! FROSTFIRE! How dare I besmirch the sacred name of Frostfire? Is that his given name, or? Young Frostfire grew up noooot quite in sync with the other kids. Part Frost and part Fire, he had a hard time with things like wiffle ball and spin the bottle…
ME: Okay team, sound off when you’re ready and Masher will crack this puppy.
MF: But back to the action!! The double doors in front of us were as daunting as a sixth grade dance. Our binaca spray was ready for anything, or nothing, in our case…
I regret that I never recorded it. He would go on for hours and I’d get killed in-game because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I fell out of my chair on several occasions. It was magical.
One of my grand rules of life is that you have to be able to both dish it out AND take it. Part 2 is the most important. My closest friends in the world are masters of both.
And so the ‘Clueless Gamer’ segments really make sense to me.
I’m one of those people who is deeply, some might say ridiculously and unabashedly connected to the mythology of a game. I certainly don’t expect my non-gamer friends to understand. But I like when they try.
And they don’t expect my definition of ‘adult’ to mean that I have to hang up ma’ gamin’ spurs. Because to me it’s every bit the art form that photography or theater or movies or TV or music are. Especially when you’ve grown up in a world where you started gaming on a monochrome monitor with a TI99-4A or a Commodore 64 or played Wizardry on an Apple 2e. You plug in a modern console or PC game and your mind is blown.
This dichotomy is captured in the ‘Clueless Gamer’ series. Aaron is fully invested. Conan couldn’t give two shits.
And because of that, you get a fresh — if sometimes condescending — view of the games that people really love.
This one, for example, for Witcher 3, is fun.
(NOTE: SOME ANIMATED SEXUAL STUFF FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH STRICT NSFW POLICIES)
As the series has progressed, they’ve tinkered a bit. More often now, they’ll slide Aaron to an ancillary role, and have him be more of a setup man and actually fill his seat with celebrities. This has really changed the dynamic and pissed off gamers, who infest the YouTube comments with things like “sux without Aaaron” or “I member when Clueless Gamer was funny” or “this isn’t a rating it’s just people who don’t know shit making fun of a game that I love.”
And they’re often right. Sometimes, it’s brutal. Like when Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey try to play Overwatch. They barely know how to use the controllers, aren’t super interesting without a script to guide them, and can’t, y’know…play. They can’t turn, they can’t shoot. It’s horrible to watch.
And what you get is a fairly partisan message from the non-gaming community that gaming somehow sucks or is uninteresting. Which, I think we can all agree, is patently untrue! SNORT SNORT. ::Imaginary glasses adjustment::
In many cases, the guys play male characters ogling female or AI characters. To me it comes across as Conan’s eternal middle-schooler affect, but I could see how it might grate some people. Games have come a long, long way as far as representation goes, and a growing percentage of wide-release games let you choose a gender up front so you’re not as corralled into a male-gazey experience as much as you used to be.
It used to be all tits and gore. But we’re making progress. Some of my favorite games, for example, have no violence at all. Like ‘Unravel’, which is absolutely otherworldly in its loveliness.
Or the epic ‘The Last of Us’ co-led by a female character named Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson) who will pretty much haunt you forever. I had heard that ‘The Last of Us’ (which is exclusive to the Playstation platform) was the ‘favorite game of all time’ from so many people that I bought a PS4 last Christmas just to try the remastered version.
It was worth every penny. It was also Pajiba’s favorite video game, based on beloved characters.
I don’t remember a game as mouth-wateringly anticipated as the upcoming sequel.
So, yeah, there are games which still have antiquated messages around equality. That’s pretty tiring and developmentally insidious for those of us trying to combat more subliminal or peripherally projected imagery of toxic masculinity. Conan isn’t tackling that. He’s basically allowing himself to comment on it by channeling his 12 year old boy side. That’s going to either be funny to you or not.
And if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool gamer, maybe the celebrity format will trigger you. Gamers want Aaron front and center, not hovering like a disparaged gaming butler.
But in many cases, the new celebrity riffing format works. Yes, they’re outsiders. Yes, they knowingly attack the resident expert from the bully pulpit of ignorance. Yes, they own it. No, they don’t ‘get it’ at all, but even so, that detached analysis can sometimes be really entertaining. Take, for example, the most recent offering, featuring Bill Hader playing ‘God of War.’
It’s fun. It blends the genres of comedy and gaming and on that level it has a life of its own. And I hear God of War is great, though I haven’t played it yet. If Duncan Jones likes it, that’s approbation enough for me.
‘Clueless Gamer’ has a number of stellar entries thus far.
Conan and Aaron reviewing Halo 4 features the master level of eye-rolling from Conan as Aaron explains the backstory.
Conan and Aaron review Fallout 4, and we see Conan only has so much patience for computers.
(Still not sure how I feel about the new Fallout 76 teaser that just came out. Fallout. Fallout 2, 3, 3 New Vegas, 4…76. Huh. Okay then!)
For the football fan, Conan and Aaron Rodgers (with Packers lineman David Bakhtiari) review Assassin’s Creed: Origins. (I finished it right after launch and had a blast.)
This is Battlefield 1 with Conan and the wonderful Terry Crews appreciating their humanity. Conan was especially excited for this because of the historical angle.
Tori loves this one where Conan and Elijah Wood rip Final Fantasy XV without realizing the game’s developers are watching them.
You can find around 40 ‘Clueless Gamer’ episodes on YouTube if you’re interested in sampling more.
It’s a series that has shifted quite a bit from its inception, and has lost some die-hard gamers along the way, but if you’re willing to laugh and not take Conan’s endless pursuit of video-game-based-sex too seriously, a fun time can be had.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get gamers and non-gamers to truly see eye to eye, so maybe a tool like this, to witness first hand how radically different we are, is just what the doctor ordered. And we can back slowwwwwwwwly away from each other. With no ill will.
Now then, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish Farcry 5.