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.
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
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.)
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.