Digitiser (or 'Digi') was a humourous daily video games
magazine that aired on Channel 4 Teletext
* in the UK from 1993-2003. Most of the content was penned by Paul Rose
') although there were several other contributors ('Mr Hairs
', 'Mr Cheese
'...) over the years. Digitiser was never taken very seriously by anyone at Teletext
, including Rose, who admits to having had scant knowledge of video games or journalism in the early days, having intended to use Digitiser as a means of blagging
Digitiser was different to most other games magazines, primarily due to the unusual medium by which it was delivered. The magic of Teletext meant that it boasted a readership estimated to be in the region of 1.5 million people in its heyday, and the advantage over the print magazines of being completely free of charge. Also unlike the print mags, Digitiser was not tied into the industry public relations machine (at least not in the same way), which is often interpreted to mean that it was subject to less editorial interference, and was somehow less 'corruptible'.
The thing that drew readers back to Digitiser day after day was the humour, and the characters. Virtually all of Digitiser's content (which was categorised roughly into news, reviews, letters, opinion columns and completely non-game-related skits) was delivered by fictional characters who were replaced regularly when they had outstayed their welcome.
One of the longest running characters was The Man With The Long Chin (later just The Man), who would deliver a daily one-page diary entry describing the ups and downs of his current line of work. Another popular feature was Mr. T's problem page, where the star of TV's The A-Team would give ADVICE and LEAFLETS to readers (and warn people to stay away from his bins). The letters page was run for a long time by an angry pig called Fat Sow.
The news pages on Digitiser would feature short news 'bullet points' of a couple of sentences, interspersed by commentary from a character. One such character was Insincere Dave, who would extremely sarcastically say what a good idea things were. The best news character was Zombie Dave, who would deliver profanity-laden innuendoes and otherwise libellous statements through the cunning subterfuge of 'talking like a zombie', for example: "Srrrrgrrr rrrz prrblrrr brrrrgrrrrrrd."
The spare pages at the end of Digitiser's block were often used for other silly pieces of comedy. Often, this space would be used for 'script extracts' from proposed films and TV shows (which would, in actuality, be strings of childish jokes delivered by the characters).
A final Digitiser mainstay relied on a feature of Teletext called the Reveal button. This allowed small pictures and lines of text to be hidden in the unused black space on each page. This was often used to hide pictures of swans and sometimes even multi-page conversations. The most popular characters hidden in this way were The Snakes, a pair of street-talking teenagers who happened to be snakes. ("I cuss you bad.") Another was popular television detective Inspector Morse, and his assistant Lewis.
There were many, many more characters of varying lifespans over the years.
There are many rumours about the friction between Mr Biffo and the management of Teletext Ltd., although it is doubtful that there was outright hostility towards the section otherwise it wouldn't have lasted ten years. It has been mentioned that the Teletext bosses didn't really understand why there was all this 'nonsense' being included in the games pages, and a brief unsuccessful attempt at 'sanitising' Digitiser eventually led to it being discontinued in March 2003. Regardless of its actual merits and importance, it can't be denied that Digitiser was extremely popular, receiving many messages of support towards the end. The page's most famous fan was the author Alex Garland, who regularly wrote to Digi and entered their odd competitions.
When Digitiser ended it was replaced with GamesCentral, a more conventional attempt to cover the same remit, mostly written by one-time Edge magazine editor Tony Mott. Digi creator Paul Rose has gone on to write scripts for television (most recently joining the writing team of gritty BBC soap opera EastEnders- where he has promised to work Digitiser catchphrases into the dialogue) as well as video games (the forthcoming Pillage by Zed Two). Parts of Digitiser's humour live on in Rose's website (www.bubblegun.com), and more recently, in the advertising-free, questionable-business-model video games news site Digiworld (written by Stuart Campbell, Jonathon Nash and Kieron Gillen, with Rose's patronage).
I should admit that for most of its run I didn't bother to read Digitiser, not having access to Teletext, or in extreme cases, a television. I don't buy into the popular (among the 'hardcore', meaning, people who take everything they read seriously) view that it was some kind of important work of subversive satire, like some kind of low-bandwidth Radio Caroline. I can appreciate that a lot of it was quite funny though. Do you see?
*For the benefit of international readers, Teletext is a text-based information service that you can access through your television and navigate with the numeric keys on your TV remote control. It was devised some time in the early 1980's and is visually similar to a BBC Micro or Apple II computer display. Because the pages were transmitted in sequence, it often took upwards of 10 seconds to move from page to page. In spite of its limitations, many people used it (and some still do, crazy fools) to check up on news, horse racing, subtitles (page 888) and other 'live' information throughout the day.
Digi character index:
Digging up the past: