Originally published in Exeposé – University of Exeter Student Newspaper
Before Facebook became the owner of our persistent online identity and before Zynga created their ‘-ville’ empire, Habbo Hotel (a glorified chatroom) was where tweens went to get their fill of browser based social gaming.
I was about 11 years old when I first started frequenting this free-to-play virtual world, which makes my last visit to the hotel around 2003. The features that stick in my mind are public rooms filled with chat-bots and people trying to block exits (an early form of trolling), and private rooms decorated with pixelated furniture (‘furni’ essentially formed the economy of the virtual hotel) where users would exchange niceties such as ‘hi qt u lk soooo hot’, and generally play a big game of pretend while trading ‘furni’ with each other.
It wasn’t long before this wore thin for me, and I looked for ways to exploit the game (making clones of myself to flood rooms was particularly entertaining) before finally hanging up my Habbo hat. Today I check back in to Habbo Hotel, to see what has changed.
I am immediately dropped into my own room – and it’s already furnished. I get a rush. The possession of ‘furni’ has been hardwired into my brain as a sense of achievement. This feeling quickly resides as I realise that every guest at Habbo will have been treated to the same thing, there is more ‘furni’ in the economy than before – a form of quantitative easing, if you will.
Things in the hotel haven’t changed in principle – interaction is still driven by two things: the acquisition of ‘furni’ and tween hormones. Granted, an extensive ‘quest’ system has been implemented, though it is driven by simple achievement-style goals rather than any story, and the carrot at the end of the string is the oh-so-coveted virtual furniture. Yet, this is largely ignored.
The rich culture of ‘pretend’ is more prevalent and stronger than ever, a quick hop through the private rooms led me to virtual adoption centres, military academies, Starbucks cafés and ‘date hotels’ (in fact now Habbo have officially sanctioned date rooms – which was forbidden in my time), each meticulously decorated and populated with barely literate (what I presume to be) tweens.
While there have been some additions to the mechanics here and there, the old hotel is in a shockingly similar state to how it was when I checked out in 2003. 12 year olds never change, all desperate to find an accepting social circle, and seeing myself in the kids logged on today almost brings a tear to my eye.
The most popular room right now? ‘*~S£XY TEEN PARTY~*’, closely followed by ‘HABBO HIGH SCHOOL’.
Never change Habbo.com, never change.