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Founder of Giant Bomb video game site dies

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.

Ryan Davis didn't set out to be a celebrity, but his way with words and larger-than-life personality made him an Internet star, with fans from all corners of the globe.

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Ryan Davis, dressed as a pirate.

Davis, a nearly lifelong Petaluma resident, was one of the most recognizable figures at video game website Giant Bomb. He died unexpectedly at home July 3, provoking an outpouring of grief and love from fans of his video-based reviews and his free-form weekly podcast, a rambling three-hour chat with his friends and business partners at the site.

“He was quick to make fun of people,” recalled Giant Bomb founder and longtime friend Jeff Gerstmann of Petaluma. “But if you hung in with him a second or two longer, you'd see it was all out of love with him.”

The family did not release the cause of death, but father Richard Davis said it was sudden but peaceful and was from natural causes.

Less than a week earlier, he had married his longtime girlfriend, Anna, and the couple was planning a cross-country train trip as a honeymoon, a trip they never got to take.

“He was kind and generous and clever,” she recalled a week after her new husband's death. “He could certainly be an ass at times — and he knew it. But it was always with the best of intentions.”

Davis was born June 4, 1979, in Los Alamitos, but moved with his parents to Petaluma as an infant. He graduated from the Nonesuch School in Sebastopol.

As a child, Davis showed a fascination and talent with computers, and he was fond of video games, his father said.

“We could never get him away from his Game Boy,” Nintendo's handheld game system that was popular in the 1990s, his father said.

After high school, Davis worked tech support jobs in San Francisco until being recruited by Gerstmann to the fledgling Gamespot website, a popular video gaming-related site. He started on the technical side, but quickly moved on to writing news items and reviews.

Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot after a dispute with editors in 2007 and founded Giant Bomb the next year. Davis and several other Gamespot alumni quickly joined him.

The idea, Gerstmann said, was to do something different, more personality-based and graphical than Gamespot's faceless, text-heavy style.

So the friends turned on the microphones and cameras and began talking, starting with video games and drifting to topics from the perfect way to use an outdoor grill to good drinks to dealing with life's lessons and adversities.

Video games “would be 45 minutes in the podcast, but we'd go on for three hours ... we wanted to expand beyond geek culture,” Gerstmann said.

Davis was a breakout star, with his big laugh and broad humor and his eclectic interests, including music, unusual clocks, hummingbird feeders, and a weirdly intense love of his New Balance model 574 shoes, a love so passionate that podcast followers would send him photographs of their own pairs, his wife said.

“There was something inherently genuine about the way he carried himself on camera and in the podcasts” that helped him connect with an audience, she said. “I think that showed or resonated with people.”

As his fame among gamers grew, she said, people would recognize him on the street and ask for autographs and pictures. Davis was always friendly and cooperative, but he would often confess later that he was uncomfortable with all the attention, such as the day he was recognized in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disneyland, where the couple went every year to celebrate Anna Davis' birthday.

Upon his death, the affection viewers felt for Davis boiled over in a way that seems to have astonished his family and friends. His father's Twitter feed was overwhelmed with with people from all over the world sending condolences and sharing stories.

“When I was battling depression, Ryan and Giant Bomb were the only thing that brought me joy,” Nashville-based freelance writer Josh Holloway, known as @holloway, tweeted. “In many ways he saved my life.”

Twitter user @Brettreyu added, “Just another Internet stranger here but we could all benefit from being as unrelentingly willing to laugh as Ryan was.”

Richard Davis said in the two days after his son's death was announced, his own Twitter feed went from two followers to nearly 1,700 as friends and readers scrambled for details of Ryan Davis' life and death.

“They just wanted to know if they man they saw (on the podcast) was same man” as in real life, his father said. “And he was.”

Gerstmann, meanwhile, said Giant Bomb and the weekly Giant Bombcast podcast will continue, though with a large hole left by Davis' absence. This week's episode was a tribute to Davis.

In addition to his wife and father, who lives in Petaluma, Davis is survived by his mother Rebecca Davis of Santa Rosa; stepmother Anne Davis of Petaluma; brother Robin Davis of Santa Cruz; and uncle Ron Felkner of Orange, with whom Ryan Davis was very close.

The family plans a private memorial service later this summer, his father said, though the staff at Giant Bomb is considering holding an online memorial service for Davis' friends and fans.

His wife said Davis enjoyed his life right up to his final day.

“We all would have preferred it had been longer,” she said, “but he lived it to the fullest.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)

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