My only two-way interaction with Ryan Davis was at E3 2012. He was finishing up taking the picture you see here. I clapped him on the shoulder as one would do with a long-time colleague and said, “Hey Ryan, I love Giant Bomb. You all do a great job,” or something similarly banal. To his credit, despite the long days, miles of walking, and the mixture of tedium and chaos that defines the conference, he responded with a quick thanks as we continued walking past each other to respective appointments. Looking back on it, the shoulder clap may have been presumptuous since we didn’t actually know each other.
It came from an honest place though. Since 2008, I’ve listened to and watched literally hundreds of hours of his podcasts and videos on Giant Bomb. Following Ryan and the rest of the crew was a staple of my week. No matter how bad things were, I knew there would be at least a couple hours a week when I could listen to them virtually shoot the shit about video games and whatever else struck the crew’s fancy (their unexpected Star Trek-related tangents were always fun). Strange as it is to think about, I most certainly heard more of Ryan’s voice on an average week than the voices of most of my family members. It’s the weird thing about our modern media landscape; the Internet has made it possible to feel like you know someone even if you’ve never met.
Ryan passed away on July 3, 2013. How do you pay tribute when one of these strange types of friends dies? Since I can’t help others get to know him, I figure the best way to honor him is to share his influence on me.
The simplest way to put it is that Ryan seemed like a person on the Internet, rather than an “Internet personality.” I suppose I can never be completely certain that it wasn’t all some elaborate act, but if it was, it was a damn good act. When it came to video games, his enthusiasm was refreshing. His sarcasm and wit could be cutting, but they were tools employed judiciously, rather than as indiscriminate snark fire hoses. He was a constant reminder that in an industry that vacillates between hyperbolic extremes on a weekly basis you could still take it upon yourself to operate on an even keel. If you like something or hate something, say it plainly and without pretension. If you mess up, apologize and do better next time. Above all, try to enjoy yourself and the people around you.
This last part was always apparent. Whether it was shooting the shit with the regular crew or corralling a wild (perhaps slightly tipsy) groups of journalists and developers on a podcast, Ryan had a way of making the conversation sound natural. Some of the best video game discussion, analysis, and interviewing I’ve ever listened to has come from shows he piloted. He had a talent for getting people to converse, rather than trade talking points. He knew when to step back, let a show breathe, and see what develops when people have some space to fill. He proved time and time again that conversations about games could be dumb, hilarious, and insightful all at the same time. It’s something I try to remember every week when I sit down to record with Jorge. Our “serious, but not humorless” credo over on our own Experience Points podcast owes a big debt to Ryan and his work at Giant Bomb.
The fact that I know Ryan enjoyed black velvet paintings, collected laser discs, and was in the process of creating the definitive “Summer Jam” playlist made him more than a talking head who made noise about video games. He was someone I could appreciate as a complete person who happened to share some of my interests. He seemed genuine and welcoming, as if I could someday introduce myself and we would simply pick up as if we were longtime friends. This “what you see is what you get” approach to representing yourself on the Internet is something I try to live up to every day. Whenever I get an email from a reader or listener who sounds like they are writing to a good friend, I know the approach is working.
The world is worse off with him gone, and I’m going to miss him. As Shawn from Gamers with Jobs said, “I’m a friend he never knew he had”. No doubt he’s leaving behind many others that feel similarly. Thankfully, he’s also leaving behind a blueprint. Maybe if I can be as honest, approachable, and passionate as Ryan, I too can be a friend to as many people as he was, even if I never meet all of them.
Thanks for everything, Ryan.