Digitiser: At One With Teletext’s Anarchic, Classic Video Game Mag

Digitiser 2000 the show
Good news!

When we were growing up, there was this thing called Teletext (kind of like the internet, but not). On it there was Digitiser, a video game magazine which updated daily (the only one in the world to do so for quite some time) and wasn’t really about video games, more about surreal fun. Yes, it was a big source of inspiration for us! For over a decade, each morning we’d get up, have breakfast, read Digitiser, and be merry.

It launched on January 1st 1993 and was immediately subversive by being anarchic, confrontational, purposely vague or difficult, and as surreal as you can imagine. It was an immediate hit, partly due to its daily updates (pre-internet era, this really was unusual for the games industry), but also due to its sense of humour. The great news is it’s been back as Digitiser 2000 for a few years, but it’s also all set to launch a YouTube show. Yes! Let’s celebrate it right here, right now you crazy damn fools!

Teletext

Digitiser and the ghost of Lenin.
A standard page on Digi.

Created by John Adams in the 1970s, there’s a standard page above. As a service, it basically displayed pages mainly in the form of text, but mosaic blocks could also be used to create crude images (which, naturally, Digitiser took full advantage of over the years with some incredibly weird results).

You’d access this through your TV by pressing the Teletext button on your remote control. Then you’d enter a page number (370 to begin with on Digitiser, although it changed home on a number of occasions) and wait for the service to load the page. A sequence of pages would then gradually tick on by.

For instance, if it was a game review as with above, you’d have to wait for the service to work through the entire sequence. You’d have to read it quickly, too, or press the “Hold” button to pause the page, the downside being this would mess up the natural sequence.

It was primitive stuff, but the internet wasn’t around back then, so Digi’s ability to update daily made it an ideal news source complemented enormously by its use of surreal humour. We mean, it was that or you’d wait all month for the latest copy of N64 Magazine, GamesMaster, CVG, or whatnot. Thusly, Digi had a massive advantage over its rivals (despite not being able to display images of games in action) and, boy, did it rub their faces in it.

Digitiser

Created by Paul Rose (who used the name Mr. Biffo to conceal his identity for some time) and Tim Moore (referred to as Mr. Hairs) it updated every day of the week except for Sunday. There was always a big bumper pack of content on the Saturday, however, to tide you through until Monday.

First hosted on the ITV channel, Digi soon became synonymous with Channel 4. Despite C4’s reputation for being a bit more risqué than, say, the BBC, Digi’s controversial nature soon put Rose and Moore at constant loggerheads with the channel’s sub-editors, execs, outraged parents, and a multitude of pissed off gamers who’d regularly fly into a fury whenever Digi criticised a title they liked.

Zombie Dave News

A couple of fine examples here include Fat Sow, a pig who provided a weekly opinion piece which was designed to send fans into an utter meltdown. Then there was Zombie Dave, a salacious member of the undead whose disgusting ranting was made barely comprehensible by his grumbling nature. There were also the Man diaries, a very odd, Bukowski-esque bloke constantly fired jobs due to his erratic behaviour.

If you take eight minutes to read the very first one, you’ll see from the word go it dared to be provocative and odd. Thusly, when we stumbled across it circa summer 1993 it was a match made in heaven! We particularly remember one moment around 1994, sitting there at 7am eating cornflakes before primary school, shaking our heads in disbelief at just how surreal one edition of the Man diary was.

Digitiser remained a big talking point at our school, simply as it had a habit of winding its audience (a lot of them being clueless kids) up and reveling in the controversy. We certainly got riled up at times, being so young, but as we got into our late teens we’d realised how special Digitiser was. It ended in March 2003, just as we’d hit 18, and our impressionable brains could move on to do our own thaaang, you know?

Zombie Dave

For a decade, it was a daily part of one’s lives – we hold it in such high regard as it was so ridiculous, as it spoke its mind, as it was so funny, due to the archaic technology it used to drag in over a million readers a week, and for the relentless controversy. It truly was a marvel and, although it’s a bit “Back in our day…” syndrome to do it, you really don’t get things like that anymore.

Digitiser 2000

Returning in late 2014, Paul Rose resurrected Digitiser with Digitiser 2000 and it’s all so fabulous and back to normal again! Well, Rose is a tad older and calmer now so there’s a lot more serious type game analysis going on, as well as opinion features, occasional polemical rants, but also lots of silly stuff.

Digitiser the Show is one harebrained outcome from this revival. It’s nearing the end of its Kickstarter run right now. If you’d like to see some fun retro gaming show stuff, go over there and give him your money. If not, then just don’t bother. You’ll be able to enjoy all the results further down the line for free! Hurray! Belated welcome back Digitiser!

5 comments

  1. In an age when people had to blindly buy games, I can imagine this resource was valuable to avoid all the terrible film cash-ins the industry regularly pumped out around this time. It also looks like it predicted the path independent gaming criticism would go down in later years, though it appears as though they strove to be informative first then entertaining rather than the other way around.

    Liked by 2 people

    • For the daily updates it was tremendous. It seems weird now, but you didn’t know what was going on in the industry most of the time. Randomly buying games because the cover looks decent, anyone?

      The reviews were genuinely informative and played seriously, but the madness of the rest of it can’t be downplayed. There just wasn’t anything else like it.

      The only reason it wasn’t shut down by Channel 4 was because it was too popular, otherwise they were utterly fed up with the thing. Unfortunately, that greatly irked Paul Rose and he decided to call it a day in its original form back in ’03.

      Liked by 2 people

    • So true Red Metal! Digitiser was wonderful – you’d go for the surreal, Python-esque humor and off-the-wall characters they created, and stay for the informative reviews.

      Back in the day we were stuck waiting around for questionable reviews in monthly print magazines, but Digi was updated pretty much every day, so reviews were always updated.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Loved this tribute, Mr. Wapojif. I’ve been enjoying Mr. Biffo’s return to Digitiser – the humor is still there, balanced by his sense of, well, balance.

    Can’t wait for the Digitiser web show, and I’ve already pledged my support!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No problem, it really was a huge source of inspiration for me when I was younger. When I heard the show was on the way, it felt like it was time to plug it here! I’ve pledged. Enjoyed Mr. Biffo’s recent live streams on Sundays as well, well worth checking on YouTube!

      Liked by 1 person

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