Digitiser: Video Game Journalism’s Finest Hour

by

Digitiser

“Moc-moc-a-moc.”

Those were probably the first words that I read on Digitiser. I say “on”, because they weren’t really “in” it in the same way that my ambitions are “in” a shallow grave. No, it’s better to use “on”, as in there are pictures of me “on” the internet.

Because Teletext video game ‘magazine’ Digitiser was very much on our television screens throughout a large part of the 1990s and into early 2000s, and those words were suspended there, soundtracked by Big Breakfast presenter-types Johnny Vaughn and Denise Van Outen’s blurted inanities in in the background, as I ate a bowl of Cocoa Pops before going to school.

But Digitiser represented much more than furtively-read video game news, reviews and occasional gibberish in the morning. It defined video game journalism in its day, and it continues to be a yardstick by which it should be judged. It also had 8 colours, blinking text, and crudely drawn snakes.

Beginnings

Digitiser launched on Channel 4’s broadcast text service Teletext in 1993. Its driving forces and general brains-in-jars were Paul Rose, aka “Mr Biffo”, and Tim Moore, aka “Mr Hairs”. According to an unreferenced Wikipedia quote, Rose and Moore “only began working on it in order to “amuse [themselves] and get free games.” While you should never trust Wikipedia that much, there’s no reason to doubt the validity of that quote, as it neatly encapsulates the attitude that drove the magazine.

With its blend of incredibly surreal humour and an almost nihilistic approach to video games, it found what could be described as a cult audience, if a high water mark of 1.5 million readers could be considered cult.

Its daily nature allowed it to beat most traditional print magazines to the punch on news, and while only having a limited colour pallete and a complete lack of screenshots, it was frequently the most visually engaging publication of its type. I mean, who doesn’t like single colour pixel effigies of Thom Yorke?

Coming into being at the height of the ‘console wars’, Digitiser also frequently courted controversy with its audience, engaging in a not-so-subtle form of bear baiting with rabid Nintendo, Sega and Sony fans (and taking constant potshots at the Amiga – “Hmm.. an Amiga game relying on social interaction. And before you ask, your life-sized cut-out of Cat from Red Dwarf doesn’t count. Joke!” – which was very much on its last legs, despite the vocal protestations from owners).

At one point, Digitiser was accused of being biased against all three major console manufacturers, prompting Rose to write that Digitiser “hates everyone equally, man” and also “hooray!”.

And it was this unbiased and counter-culture attitude that earned Digitiser its legions of fans – those who had become tired of the trite and vacant style of mainstream print magazines such as CVG, Mean Machines, GamesMaster and the awful official Sony, Sega and Nintendo rags.

The Worm has Turn(er)ed

It did a sick

Of course, such controversy wasn’t exactly in-keeping with Teletext’s pedestrian outlook on publishing. Rose and Moore were both viewed as troublemakers by Teletext, which reached something of a head in 1996 when Moore was fired. Rose continued on alone, save for some occasional contributors.

By the time 2002 had rolled around, the constant assault on Digitiser’s writing style and Rose’s unwillingness to battle on against it resulted in the magazine being thoroughly stripped of its trademark humour. There was an outcry, but in 2003 Digitiser was finally shuttered. Moore had long since gone on to have a successful career as a travel writer, while Rose had been writing for television for some time and has since published a book.

Over its lifespan, Digitiser grew and contracted many times, like some kind of hideous and delightful pulsing grub, yet was never less than cutting edge in its approach to games journalism. (Apart from the times when Rose phoned it in or had a stooge write parts, but we’ll forgive him for that.)

Blistered Kettle

Today, Digitiser is still remembered fondly by those who read it. Not only that, but to say that it has influenced modern video game journalism would be somewhat of an understatement.

Take websites such as Destructoid and the thriving Rock Paper Shotgun, both of which contain echoes of the style and attitude of Digitiser. Of course, both of those websites also feel the sweaty palms of Old Man Murray around their waists as well, but those particular miscreants will be a tale for another day.

In the age of the modern internet, Digitiser would never have thrived. But in its day, it represented as much of a quantum leap from print magazines for the genre as websites do with Teletext now. If anything, I find myself lamenting the lack of a ‘reveal’ button on websites. We’re going backwards, man.

I’ll leave you with some choice quotes direct from the horse’s mouth, lovingly curated by long-time Digitiser fan Chris Bell on his site Super Page 58.

  • “It really made us laugh – especially Mr Hairs. Knocking young lads off always makes him ‘crack up’!”
  • “Every back-handed lob dips in behind you… steady on, Mr Biffo, we’re only talking about tennis!”
  • “Although we like to pretend the funny world of sitting around rolling 900-sided dice and decorating daft little lead orcs is a closed book to us, Mr Biffo’s shamed past just won’t shut up.”
  • “We wish everything to do with American Football could be stuffed into a picnic egg and be eaten up, but that probably isn’t going to happen.”
  • “Activision is fast becoming the most versatile and prolific Jeremy in the games industry. Following auspicious beginnings as a close friend of the Atari VCS, and then a quiet decade spent barking at pigeons and being drunk on Strongbow in parks, the firm’s kicked the booze, washed its gob and put on a decent pair of pants.”
  • “The racing genre is like a freak show: you’re always promised new and wonderful experiences, but when you pull back the tent flap all that’s in there are a couple of hens up a pipe.”
  • “From a distance, monkeys are excellent: they look like little humans, going about their business doing funny stuff. But when you get up close to the monkeys, they’re even more excellent!”
  • “Rather like a deranged combat veteran with a bullet lodged in his brain causing him to imagine spectral cockroaches crawling across his skin, wherever we turn these days we seem haunted by snowboarding games.”
  • “Yes the game vibrates, but so does our washing machine, and you don’t see us giving that 90%+. The bonus here, we suppose, is that you can hold it against someone’s face while you’re on a bus to give them a ‘start’. But we don’t really want to do that.”
  • “This time last year, the botched Japanese launch of the Dreamcast seemed to be the final nail in Sega’s idiocy coffin. This time two months ago, with the delay to the European Dreamcast launch, it looked as if that coffin had been exhumed and dumped in the sea.”
  • “Modern game designers are idiots.”

Tags: , , , ,

[ 8 comments to read... submit another ]

  1. That second screen-shot may already be the best screen-shot that has ever and will ever appear on this site.

    You know, we need more people getting away with this kind of confidently eclectic eccentricity. If I can ever insert a comment in to an article anything like as mental as the one about snowboarding games and get paid for said article I will die a happy (not to mention smug) man.

  2. It’s a shame that Paul Rose appears to have disappeared from the face of the earth, writing-wise. I know that he did a column in Edge magazine for a while, and used to keep a fairly active blog which had a decent community (though my mind could be confusing me there – the community was either really good, or a bit a naff and filled with bitchy in-fighting).

    Tim Moore, on the other hand, has written some totally excellent travel books. All very chortlesome and sure to please fans of Digitiser’s style of writing.

  3. Personally I think Moore’s travel writing is awful. Frost on My Moustache was yawnsome. Most importantly – why did Rose abandon the Mr Biffo character? There were rumours of some badness happening but it was all swiftly deleted from forums.

  4. Hello Ladies and Goats

    Did anyone ever see http://www.bubblegun.com??

    That was Paul’s business in much the same style.

[ 4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks ]

  1. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
  1. Superlicious | Superlevel
  1. Modern Game Designers are Idiots | dafiveid.org
  1. Digitiser: A Retrospective | dafiveid.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>