Gavin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Neurobiological Science from Haverford College. Gavin studied for his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he carried out research for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars Rover Vision Project, under his advisor Rod Brooks. While still a student, Gavin learned the computer programming language LISP. Influences from M.I.T. and his own work lead him to develop a number of custom programming languages that improved the quality of graphics, controls, sounds and artificial intelligence in Naughty Dog video games.
Gavin and Rubin sold their first video game, Math Jam, in 1985. In 1989, they sold Keef the Thief to Electronic Arts. In the early '90s, their fighting game, Way of the Warrior, led to a multi-title deal with Universal Interactive Studios. It was under the auspices of this Universal deal that they produced the multi-million selling Crash Bandicoot series from 1994 until 1999, and later segued into the critically acclaimed Jak and Daxter series of games. At the end of 2000, Rubin and Gavin sold Naughty Dog to Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). All in all, they created 14 Naughty Dog games including Math Jam (1985), Ski Crazed (1986), Dream Zone (1987), Keef the Thief (1989), Rings of Power (1991), Way of the Warrior (1994), Crash Bandicoot (1996), Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997), Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (1998), Crash Team Racing (1999), Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (2001), Jak II (2003), Jak 3 (2004), and Jak X: Combat Racing (2005). Together these games have sold over 35 million units and generated over $1 billion in revenue.
While at Naughty Dog, Gavin developed two LISP dialects for use in game development, GOOL (Game Object Oriented Lisp) and its successor GOAL (Game Oriented Assembly Lisp). These represented a departure from the mainstream in terms of language choice, and featured some innovations in design.
Shortly after leaving Naughty Dog in 2004, Gavin co-founded a new Internet startup called Flektor with his former business partner, Jason Rubin, and former HBO executive Jason R. Kay. In May 2007, the company was sold to Fox Interactive Media, which is a division of News Corp. Fox has described the company as: “a next-generation Web site that provides users with a suite of Web-based tools to transform their photos and videos into dynamic slideshows, postcards, live interactive presentations and video mash-ups.” In October 2007, Flektor partnered with its sister company, MySpace, and MTV to provide instant audience feedback via polls for the interactive MySpace / MTV Presidential Dialogues series with then-presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama.
Gavin left Fox Interactive Media in 2008. In 2009 he announced a return to the video game business with his Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin. They have formed a new social game startup called Monkey Gods that is working on a new version of Snood along with a casual word game called MonkWerks .
In recent years, Gavin has turned to novel writing. His first novel, the dark historical fantasy, The Darkening Dream, was published in December 2011. His second novel Untimed, which involves time travel, was released on December 19, 2012.