There was a sort of bargain bin/table full of dog-eared and soiled stock, and on top of the pile was a tatty copy of a Doctor Who tabletop role-playing game. I wasn't surprised that they were effectively chucking it out - what modern kid would ever want that? - but I was taken aback that there had even been a role-playing game released at any point in the last 15 years.
I mean, I know that Warhammer 40k is still a thing. Games Workshop isn't what it was, but there's the odd store still open on the occasional high street, usually with a bunch of 14 year-olds sat in a dingy backroom with a grown man, who probably hasn't even had a CRB check.
But the golden age of the tabletop role-playing game is long gone, the power of the mind's eye superseded by the power of the graphics processor.
As I'm sure I've made clear on numerous occasions, I wasn't one of the cool kids at school. Yet I wasn't quite a nerd either. Maths and science bounced right off me. I was too impatient to read books. I didn't have a clue about computers, unlike the majority of my peer group.
Anything I was good at was merely because I'd found ways to skip corners. And yet, I liked video games. I liked comics. I liked - as I discovered - role-playing games, and so I became lumped in as another "Computer Boy".
In fact, the name of the Digitiser character "Computer Boy" came courtesy of some tall, ginger lad, in the year above me... who one lunchtime caught my mates and I reading what he assumed was a computer magazine. He sneered at us: "Ewww... Computer boys reading their computer magazine!".
Which irritated me no end, because it wasn't a computer magazine - it was a magazine about science-fiction. So, y'know... now who looks stupid?
My first taste of role-playing was probably Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the inaugural book in the Fighting Fantasy series - co-written by no less a figure in the future of the games industry than Ian Livingstone ("I presume").
You know those books, right? "If you want to fight the skeleton, turn to page 48... If you want to run away, turn to page 25"...
A mate of mine had brought his copy of Citadel of Chaos to school - and it appeared to me to be the best thing ever. Yet I never wanted his sloppy seconds. I wanted my own adventure, so I put Warlock on my Christmas list.
I was hooked on gaming books for years. Deathtrap Dungeon was a particular favourite of mine - and I read it multiple times - along with the Mad Max-esque Freeway Fighter,.
It was easier than reading a proper book - and with that in mind, I later wrote my final O Level English essay on the Lone Wolf choose-your-own-adventure series. And before you mock me: I got a C. And my preparation only took me about a tenth of the time it took everyone else. So in your face, everyone who spent months trying to get through To Kill A Mockingbird or Of Mice And Men; I read my book in about an hour. And it had monsters in it.
But proper role-playing would soon grab me, and the obsession continued into my early-20s. Like many youths, I was familiar with the term "rolling-up", but - unlike most of them - for me it referred to the process of role-playing game character generation.
For reasons I never fully understood, I started going to church in my early-teens. I'd become friends with a boy at school - later nicknamed "Delightful Spread" - who'd encouraged me to come along with him one Sunday.
I'd never been religious. My family only ever went to church when somebody got married or died. But school wasn't always easy, and the church gave me a peer group where I wasn't the butt of everyone's jokes. People there were nice. A surprising number of them were like me - not particularly into religion, but simply looking for something to belong to. A couple of them were, incongruously, punks.
Going to church - as I ended up doing for about three years - gave me two things. Firstly, it ultimately turned me against religion, and confirmed that I didn't believe in any omnipotent cloud dude, and wasn't going to let myself be brainwashed by some old book. Secondly, it introduced me to a bunch of people who were into role-playing games.
At first I was part of a long-running Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with "Delightful Spread" and the Churchies (which sounds like it could've been a 1950s doo-wop group).
My main character was a ranger called Harthor the Hound, and I don't care if you find that funny. He was a better man than you'll ever be, and he owned a bear.
If you've never done tabletop role-playing, it begins the same as any video game RPG - you "roll-up" your character with dice, then head out on adventures, earning experience points to spend on new skills. There's no winning, just surviving.
The Dungeon Master - or Games Master - becomes your eyes and ears. Any potential use of your skills or abilities requires another dice roll.
The rule-books - the Dungeon Masters Guide, the Monster Manual, the Players Handbook - were like ancient artefacts to me, containing the hallowed knowledge. I read them and re-read them and re-read them. It was decades before I made the link between Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien; as far as I was concerned, the game's creator Gary Gygax had come up with it all by himself.
The "Gelatinous Cube" was my favourite Advanced D&D creature - basically, a giant cube of jelly, like you get in a packet from the supermarket... only much bigger and more deadly. As I later found out, it was one of but a handful of the game's creations not to have been lifted from Lord of the Rings.
I visited my sister in America in 1983, where she and her husband - Jim Bob - were living on Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave Desert. She had a neighbour who, like Jim Bob, was in the USAF. He looked exactly like Ned Flanders - one evening, he and invited me over for a game of D&D with him and his wife.
Here are the salient points of that again:
Dungeons & Dragons.
Ned Flanders man.
Edwards Air Force Base.
I was 12 years-old, and that was the point at which I think I fell in love with America. It was a world every bit as exciting and alien as Middle Earth.
Later on, I was part of a group of role-players - along with Digitiser's own Mr Cheese - who would meet every Tuesday evening, for years, round at my friend Phil's house.
Twilight 2000, DC Super-Heroes, Judge Dredd, Call of Cthulu, Paranoia - we played them all.
Once I'd sold my Star Wars toys, getting a new RPG rulebook was literally the most exciting present I could imagine. The second most exciting present was a set of new dice; D8s, D12s, D20s...
Sometimes I'd play a character, but generally I'd prefer being the GM - or Games Master (no relation), because it let me tell stories.
I'd spend the whole week from Tuesday to Tuesday preparing for the next RPG session. Writing up ideas, drawing characters and maps...
Yet despite all the preparation, I'd always end up winging it on the fly.
Even though I would go through the motions of rolling dice, behind my GM's screen, I never let it get in the way of the story. I enjoyed the improvised nature of it, having to think on the go, and not rely too heavily on rules or structure. Generally, I'd roll the dice and ignore the outcome in favour of the narrative.
I'm the same now. I like to be surprised by story as it pours out of my brain. Planning is counter-intuitive... and probably the hardest part of my day job.
I lived for those Tuesday nights though.
Frequently, we'd set up for the role-playing, but never get around to it. On a handful of occasions, we'd do something else entirely - play hide-and-seek in the dark, for example, if Phil's parents were out. During one of these games, I found a tube of grouting and used it to glue a loofah to the bath. Phil was understandably furious. His father was a stumpy little Marxist, and I always got the sense Phil lived in fear of his temper, and being beaten with a copy of The Socialist Worker.
On another occasion, Phil lent me his copy of Herzog Zwei on the Mega Drive, and I ended up losing it. Suffice to say, I was a terrible friend, and he stopped talking to me shortly afterwards.
The role-playing nights continued for a while longer, because Phil's brother was also part of a group, but gradually they came to a halt.
Everyone's lives started heading in different directions, as they tend to do. Before long, there was nobody left local to me who played games. There were no more regular sessions, and then there were no sessions at all. Some time back, I bought my daughter the AD&D rulebooks - in the hope that she might get her friends interested, and then I'd have a new group to play with, but she never took it up.
"No dice," as they say.
Video game RPGs aren't the same. They're too restrictive, they lack the go-anywhere/do-anything power of the human imagination. It's harder to improvise, except within the parameters of the game. Sure, you can talk to people via a headset, but it's not the same as sitting around a table with a bunch of mates and snacks.
I still miss it.
GAMES OF MY YEARS