The Wisdom of a Clueless Gamer: Conan O’Brien

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The Wisdom of a Clueless Gamer: Conan O’Brien

For several decades, those of us who have considered video games to be a serious hobby, found ourselves at the mercy of the reviews from video game critics. Often resorting to the print medium, the 90’s were an era of the gaming magazine: Gamepro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Nintendo Power were big names. As time has passed, the digital revolution has served to displace print. Now gamers have sought the opinions of the web based gaming critic, but all this time, something was woefully missing.

The views of a totally clueless gamer.

Starting in 2012, everything has changed. Gamer boys and girls alike can celebrate the freedom and fresh perspective that only an outsider of grand stature can provide. At first glance it’s understandable to mistake the lanky, awkward, and pale visage of the individual in question as a gamer – but you would be wrong.

Conan O’Brien is anything but a gamer.

Which, in some bizarre way, makes for fantastically unbiased video game reviews.

Like so many things in life, there is beauty in the chaos. Beyond the uncomfortable tension and immature humor lies wisdom…

I take a little break from the allegamy to now present to you 8 ½ life and leadership lessons from Conan’s Clueless Gamer.

The Wisdom of a Clueless Gamer

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1. Enthusiasm can Trump Talent

While playing the head-to-head fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us, Conan resorts to the technique familiar to many beginning gamers: button mashing. Pounding away at the controller, the unskilled Conan manages a victory against a more experienced player, his co-host for the spot, Aaron Bleyaert. I cannot comment on Aaron’s skill level, but I do know that as a decent Tekken 3 player, I have been defeated by a button masher or two in my day.

In life, as time passes we can lose our passion and enthusiasm for work or hobbies we once enjoyed. Even organizations find themselves subject to this principle. While many early successes are attributed to “beginner’s luck,” the real force at play is enthusiasm, or in Conan’s case, button mashing (apparently, he used the same technique to write his college thesis).

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2. Principles Are Timeless (Respect the Classics)

In the episode where Conan plays the Atari 2600, he is confronted with games from decades past: Missile Command, Golf, River Raid, Space Invaders, and E.T.. While not all of the games provided the best experience, the solid game play and classic design of Space Invaders won Conan over. While there was some previous experience with the game, even a clueless gamer was able to immediately recognize the solid foundation in design that makes Space Invaders so successful (click here to read about How Space Invaders Can Make You Successful).

While the content of games, books, movies, life, work, businesses and leadership may vary, the principles that lie underneath, do not. Finding success often means identifying the core principles of what makes a particular situation or effort successful, and then applying those same principles to future endeavors. Ignoring these principles will take you down the path of E.T. the Video Game: either buried in a landfill or, as Conan wisely points out, trapped in the endless cycles of depression.

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3. Underpromise and Overdeliver

Another great nugget of wisdom is contained in the Atari 2600 episode, where Conan remarks about the cover artwork from Missile Command, saying that it “Promises way more than it can deliver.” The box art of many video games, especially during the 8 bit era, are notorious for elaborately painted designs that either far surpassed the content and graphics of the game, or misrepresented many key elements of the game itself.

Yet how many businesses still fall into this same trap? A product or service is built up on promises that are too often broken. Consider almost every fast food chain that displays pictures of juicy burgers adorned with crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and fluffy buns, only to serve the customer a final product that fails to live up to the image that the purchase was based on.

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4. Focus on What Matters Most

Conan was given the opportunity to play Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U before it is even made available to the public. The obvious irony being that he could not care less. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, but what is obvious is that Aaron does care about playing the game, quite a bit. While Aaron is rattling off the details of the Super Smash Bros. roster and the various games they come from, Conan stops him to ask an important question: “Who is the second President of the United States?”

No, not Ben Franklin.
Nope, Abe Lincoln is not it either.

It’s easy to make fun of others, but if we are honest, we are all guilty of spending a little too much time on things that are trivial and not enough time on the things that matter. We get caught up in tasks at work that really don’t matter. Maybe you have relationship in your life that you are putting before the more important ones (spouse and parents trump the rest, I promise). There’s a great saying from the time management world:

“The worst use of time is to do very well that which need not be done at all.”

This is why moderation is so important. I hope that it is clear that I enjoy and value video games, but I still have to be careful that I spend the right amount of time, and place gaming in the correct order of my priorities.

By the way, the second President of the United States was John Adams (or was that Samuel Adams?)

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5. Too Many Choices Can be Debilitating

In one episode of the Clueless Gamer, Conan takes on the popular game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. At the outset of the game, players are provided with the task of customizing their character. The game offers a wide variety of options that allow players to design a unique avatar to represent them in the game.

The intersection of modern gaming systems, talented programmers, and option loving customers have created something of a beast. In fact, a mod of the game called the Character Creation Overhaul allows for 229,320 unique combination BEFORE tweaking their appearance! So is there such a thing as too many options?

Yes. Conan reaches his threshold for decision making in Skyrim pretty quickly, comparing the process to “doing taxes.” That might be an understatement.

A New York Times article gives an excellent summary of a study that was conducted demonstrating what happens when too many options are presented.

In this study, a grocery store display offers free samples of jam. In one scenario, 6 options are offered to sample, while in another scenario 24 different flavors are available to choose from. In both cases, individuals tried an average of two flavors, but the real interesting part is their purchasing behavior.

30% of shoppers who were presented 6 sample options made a purchase, while only 3% of the shoppers with all 24 options actually bought anything.

Too many choices, and we fall into “analysis paralysis.”

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6. Keep it Simple

While playing Resident Evil 6, Conan offers up the following sage advice:

“Zombies should be simple – not turn into pasta or shellfish. That just makes me hungry.”

~ Conan O’Brien

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7. Sometimes One Person has to do all the Work

In one Episode of Clueless gamer, Conan teams up with J. Cole to play a cooperative match of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. J ends up doing most (ok, all) the work while Conan just hangs out in the bushes. Then again, maybe it was better that way.

Sometimes at work or school, we are paired up with teams to complete tasks or projects. Often times, there are individuals who work very hard, and then there are others who do the equivalent of hiding in the bushes.

In this context, the best outcome is for the more skilled and experienced individuals to teach the rest and then involve them in completing the work. The best teams give everyone a chance to contribute and own the success of the group. If Splinter Cell was a work project or school assignment, Conan and J would have received a grade, but J would have been responsible for most of the work. Ideally, J could teach Conan how to become a better player, or give him a clear role to play in the mission.

Thinking about it a bit more, the best role for Conan probably was hiding in the bushes.

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8. Keep Your Messages Short and to the Point

As an introduction to the world of Halo 4, Aaron begins to provide Conan with the back story for the Halo universe. As he starts talking about the details of the game’s rich history you can see Conan checking out, his eyes glazing over. When Aaron finally summarizes the game by saying “guys shoot, you try to kill them,” it all makes sense. Why didn’t you say that earlier?

While it has always been true, given the amount of information that we receive on a daily basis, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Being to the point is important, but we also need to consider the audience as well. Conan could care less about the history of the game or the names of the characters. His approach is very pragmatic. In simple terms, “what do I need to do and how do I do it?”

The only real way to understand what others need is to ask questions and listen.

Bonus Lesson

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8.5. Don’t Find Yourself on the Wrong Side of the Mammoth

In the Skyrim episode of the Clueless Gamer, Conan finds himself on a quest to collect a mammoth tusk. Things are not going so well, as he is confronting the beast head on, but after taking a few steps around the animal, he manages to succeed in overcoming the animal.

“We’re on the wrong side of this thing.”

~ Conan O’Brien

Are you dealing with a difficult situation? Maybe you need to stop trying to take it head on, and better position yourself (especially if your “problem” has tusks).

Final Score

While Conan may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of authoritative video game reviews or profound life lessons (though I am in awe of the amazing discussions that happen in his Serious Jibber-Jabber feature), I can recommend the Clueless Gamer as great entertainment for those who prefer not to take their video gaming too seriously. For this reason, I feel it only apropos to bestow a Conan-esque rating on the feature.

On a scale where:

Salmon is equal to “Positively Life Changing”

Blue Crab is equal to “Worth $.99”

and Water Buffalo is the same as “better than good”

I rank the Clueless Gamer a “tentative Moon Jellyfish

You figure it out.

  • I love the “keep it simple.” You totally rocked the most simple statement. I heard about the study in point number (5) and I remember spending way too much time creating my first character. But Skyrim did something well that Sims didn’t do … you got to get engaged in the story before “doing taxes.”

    • I think the good news about Skyrim is that you can move forward with the defaults, so while there is choice, you can opt out of a portion of it.