I'm not qualified to write a eulogy for Ryan Davis, but I wish I were.
I’m not at all qualified to write anything meaningful about Ryan Davis, since I only met him a couple of times, and I was never even a regular listener to the Giant Bombcast. But I’m still trying to figure out why the news of his passing has me feeling like the wind was knocked out of me. It feels like the joy has been sucked out of an entire industry.
On Twitter, Sean Vanaman said:
— Sean Vanaman (@vanaman) July 8, 2013
and that’s a fantastic way to put it. The longest I ever talked to him was when a few of us from Telltale went down to the Giant Bomb offices in Sausalito to demo the first episode of Sam & Max season 3. That was at the end (for me) of a production cycle that had left me questioning whether I even wanted to work in video games anymore. A couple of hours later, I left thinking how lucky I was to get to work in games, and how I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
There are fewer things more artificial than a “press demo” for a game. But I almost instantly felt like I’d just gone to a friend’s house to sit on the couch and shoot the shit while playing a video game. And while I was ready with my standard lines about what I wanted the game to be “about,” Ryan just seemed genuinely enthusiastic.
One of the highest compliments I can give someone is to say that he “gets it,” and Ryan just seemed to get it. All the moments in the game that made me laugh — a great vocal delivery, or one of Dennis & Nick’s visual gags — got a laugh from Ryan at exactly the right time. Every time I’ve heard a comedian talk about the rush they get when a set connects with the audience and “kills?” That must be what that demo felt like.
I can’t think of a less pretentious way to say it, but it felt like the genuine communication everyone’s trying to achieve when they write or make anything that means more to them than a paycheck. It was the feeling of talking to someone who knows exactly what you’re trying to say, and more importantly, why you’re saying it. He just seemed to get that spark of interactivity that makes it worthwhile to dig through all the crap and nonsense that surrounds video games, to get at those moments of joy underneath.
Or maybe I was just reading too much into it. It was only a couple of hours, after all, in what I’m sure was a long line of Quick Looks and demos and cross-promotions. But after reading other people’s remembrances — Justin McElroy’s on Polygon is particularly moving — it becomes clear that a ton of people had a similar experience. Even briefly hanging out with Ryan left you with a little bit of his joy and enthusiasm.
I wish I’d been able to hang out with him again. I never made much of a point to, because it always seemed like he was one of the constants of video games (at least in the Bay Area), and he’d always be around. I would say that I’m jealous of the people who did get to, but if I’m feeling this affected by his absence, I can’t imagine what they must be going through. All I can do is offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends, and co-workers, and a reminder of how much of an impact you can have on someone else without even realizing it.