Video Games' Late Night TV Breakout

by Matt Helgeson on Oct 02, 2012 at 10:00 AM

For decades, it's been customary for actors, directors, authors, and musicians to make the rounds on the late night talk show circuit. Video games -- an increasingly important part of pop culture -- were largely missing from late night, which was ruled by baby boomer icons like Jay Leno and David Letterman.

However, in recent years, a new crop of younger late night hosts has begun to embrace video games. Just last night, Jimmy Kimmel introduced a new segment entitled "Celebrity Draw Something" -- a fairly amusing skit in which his staff drew pictures of celebrities in in OMGPOP's popular mobile game.

It's something that's become common on late night television. Much of the thanks should go to NBC's Jimmy Fallon, the SNL vet who took on Conan O'Brien's late night slot. Over the past few years, Fallon has often featured games on his show, including guests like Tim Schafer, Cliff Bleszinski, and Reggie Fils-Aime. He's showcased demos of such titles as Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. He even did a themed "Video Game Week" of shows in 2011, with each night including a high-profile game, system, or guest. In most of the clips, Fallon comes across as -- if not a hardcore gamer -- someone who genuinely plays and has an appreciation for the art form.

After his much-discussed departure from NBC and subsequent period of exile, Conan O'Brien resurfaced with a new show on TBS and followed Fallon's lead in including more video game content on his show. In keeping with Conan's more acerbic sense of humor, his take on games is bit more skewed, often using the act of playing a game to showcase his trademark self-deprecating wit.

Conan doesn't seem like he's much of a gamer, but his game bits have generally been funny and entertaining. Some the best Conan game segments include a fairly long and hilarious tour of Halo 4 creators 343 Industries, his recent "Clueless Gamer" reviews of games like Skyrim and Minecraft, which do a good job of parodying the games and Conan's own lack of knowledge, and his new "ideas" for games.

While games haven't supplanted the George Clooneys of the world on the chat circuit, their increasing presence on late night television is another sign that the industry has become an integral part of popular culture. For games, it's a great opportunity to reach an audience that is interested in the hobby, but not in tune with more traditional game media outlets. For the shows, it's another way to try to reach the elusive younger demographics that have turned away from television. In any case, it's heartening to see games be included in the same mainstream media conversation as movies, television, and music.