This Monday, the sad news broke that Ryan Davis, video-game personality and co-founder of the popular website Giant Bomb, had passed away at the age of 34. What followed was an amazing outpouring of emotion across social-media platforms and in comments sections throughout the Internet, from the many video-game journalists and industry employees who considered him a friend, and from many tens of thousands of fans, most of whom had never met the recently married Davis, but had revered him as part of their lives.
In November 2007, Jeff Gerstmann was infamously terminated from his editorial director position at GameSpot for defending the integrity of the site’s reviews against a marketing department unable to handle publisher complaints and advertisers threatening to withdraw over low review scores, which led to fan furor and the exodus of fellow GameSpot employees, all of whom would go on to work at the new website founded by Gerstmann and Davis. When Giant Bomb launched in 2008 the decision was made not to create a website that would compete with GameSpot, but one that would offer a unique, comprehensive, and user-driven video-game wiki alongside “fun” editorial content that, rather than attempting to cover the full breadth of the entire industry’s goings on and every video-game release, featured news, reviews, and videos, specifically covering topics that appealed to the staff.
Many years later, what Giant Bomb represents isn’t only a comprehensive video-games wiki and news/reviews website, but a community of inclusivity. Regardless of gender, age, race, political creed, sexuality, or taste, Giant Bomb fans are united as a community by their love of video games. And sometimes not even by that: The site’s appeal extends beyond games, into off-topic offbeat comedy, as any listener to their incredibly popular weekly podcast—perhaps one who’s listened to a 30-minute conversation about ridding a lawn of gopher infestation, or the sadly unknown voice actors behind children’s toys—can attest. Its inclusivity and sense of humor is a natural extension of its founders’ personalities, and exactly the reason for the large outpouring of sentiment following Davis’s tragic passing.
Gerstmann and Davis’s website found its distinctive niche through the likeable personalities of its staff during a time when so many gaming websites were imitating each other in tone and content, and amid so much discussion over the death of video-game journalism. Giant Bomb readers come to the site not for news, but for the commentary and perspective. Listeners to their podcasts aren’t just listening to smart and funny discussion on video games; the Giant Bombcast is more like a conversation between friends. The discussion is so frequently off topic it sometimes barely leaves time to actually discuss games; parenting, rap, ant-infested modems, professional wrestling, and the film Torque have all been discussed at length, and that’s in the past month alone. The website’s focus on streaming and downloadable video has put the staff front and center: Aside from weekly live shows, Giant Bomb’s most popular content is Quick Looks, in which two or more staff members play about half an hour of a game and give their impressions. This primarily gives viewers a small taste of a game they might be interested in, and in a more effective way than a text review, but it also provides an intelligent and frequently hilarious commentary on all things having to do with games. Giant Bomb’s approach is to take everything with a grain of salt, finding the humorous side of the ridiculousness found all too frequently in video games, and I can honestly think of little better way of responding to a medium still in its infancy. Which isn’t to say that they don’t also make time to sincerely discuss and champion games which deserve attention and acclaim, like the recent BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, or that they aren’t willing to tackle serious issues like the problems with gender and sexism in video games.
Davis took over the hosting reins at GameSpot after Rich Gallop left and Gerstmann was fired, and immediately slotted into the same role at Giant Bomb. He jovially hosted the Bombcast and all of their live shows, including their panels at conventions like PAX. An incredibly funny and welcoming individual, he was just as friendly as he was amusingly insulting, but he was never disrespectful and his words never corrosive or venomous. His laugh was booming and infectious. He was an easygoing individual universally described as fun to be around. As awkward as he was at being recognized in public, he remained approachable and affable, showing fans the same love he received in return. Browsing the literal tens of thousands of comments following this sad news, it’s borderline impossible to find anyone with a bad word to say about him.
My heart goes out to his family and friends, including everyone he worked with. Davis was an important part of Giant Bomb, and his passing not only marks the end of an era, but leaves a hole that will be felt by anyone who knew him in any capacity. Giant Bomb Product Manager Matthew Rorie, whose oddball handholding inclination Davis was happy to oblige, concluded on the site: “That’s not a hole that is possible to fill; it’s just something that we’ll just have to get used to walking around with, and that will not happen for a long, long time.”