Obey the HABBO way and you’re OK
The Thomas Jefferson of the wired generation. That’s one of the tittles political activist writer, poet and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow got after he in 1996 forwarded his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” around the world. This text was a reaction to the enactment of the Communications Decency Act in 1996. In this declaration Barlow warned all governments that cyberspace was “naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us….Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are based on matter. There is no matter here.” According to Barlow in 1996 cyberspace was a place where there would be no place for politics and rules as implied in ‘the real world’. The internet would be outside existing country boarders and would create it’s own rules and social contracts to determine how it would overcome it’s problems.
John Perry Barlow’s declaration can be seen as a critique towards governmental interference in cyberspace. He sees an utopian Internet in witch users are able to create their own rules and laws without restrictions or political interference. When I read this declaration for the first time I immediately thought of the role that large companies and corporations nowadays take on the internet when it comes to policy and rule making. At video vortex I already saw an interesting presentation on legal protocols on the web by Peter Westenberg.(a stream of the lecture can be seen here) In this lecture Westenberg showed the amount of changes that were made in You Tube’s terms of agreement within the last two years. Westenberg showed that within this period of time You Tube’s terms of agreement where almost completely rewritten. He also pointed out that when signing the terms of agreement we grant you tube the right to rewrite these terms. We agree that the terms of agreement can change all the time and by doing so we agree to agree to these new rewritten automatically (When thinking about these terms rationally you wouldn’t agree, agree?)
Westenberg pointed out that people don’t really care about these terms of agreement because they want to use the service that a certain company (in this case You Tube) provides. Users don’t mind living up to rules and obeying certain terms of agreement as long as they get access to the programs they signed up for. This gives the online companies and corporations a huge power on how people act online. The online environment I want to analyze keeping this in mind is Habbo Hotel. I chose this environment because it has a set of strict rules and regulations and butt still attracts a lot of young children are drawn towards it and accept these terms. On the one hand Habbo looks like a playful online environment butt on the other hand the rules, regulations and terms of agreement or pretty strict.
Habbo Hotels are localized communities where millions of children in the age of 8 to 18 every day meet. Ever since the lounge of the first Habbo hotel in 2000 in Finland the internet PC game has opened the world of e-communication to children. According to Sulake (the online entertainment company that runs Habbo) there are 80.000.000 registered users and the hotel has more than 6.000.000 unique visitors every month that spend an average time of 30 minutes on the site. Habbo at the moment has 31 different local communities. On the site users or able to build their own characters (Habbo’s), chat, make friends, exchange Habbo furniture and buy Habbo credits to be able to buy furniture to decorate their Habbo rooms. Habbo is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing virtual worlds and social networking services for teenagers. According to Wikipedia “the game is also centered around The Habbo Way, which are the standards and rules which all Habbo players are expected to follow, or face a ban from accessing the hotel for a certain amount of time. Players are urged to report any breach of it using a system which notifies the hotel’s moderators (Hobba’s).
When creating your own Habbo there are only pre-selected choices of how it can look. There is a high homogeneity between the different male and female Habbo’s. There are different rooms within the Habbo Hotel. A couple of these rooms are pretty hard to get in unless if you are a Habbo Club Member (a feature you have to pay for). The level of equality between the Habbo’s is based on the amount of money they seem to pay. In the Hotel there are also strict rules about the language that one can use. Swearing words etc. are being replaced by the word Bobba threw ‘the Bobba filter’. (This filter was shut down recently for children older than 13 years because it was starting to become a hype to try to avoid the filter for a big group of children)
While at first glance Sulake seems to create an open online environment in which children have the possibilities to use their creativity to create their own online space and community this doesn’t seem to be the company’s goal. Because, when you look into these created spaces and communities you can see that they are more restricted and bounded to certain rules as it at first glance appears. The user can only choose from a couple of well thought threw options and the amount of creativity that is ‘accepted’ by the Hotel seems to be pretty limited. John Perry Barlow’s declaration of independence in 1996 feared for the laws and rules that the different governments would apply on the internet. He declared that: “the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.” In an interview with the same author in 2004 I read the following quote:
“In order to be libertarian, you have to be an optimist. You have to have a benign view of human nature, to believe that human beings left to their own devices are basically good. But I’m not so sure about human institutions, and I think the real point of argument here is whether or not large corporations are human institutions or some other entity we need to be thinking about curtailing. Most libertarians are worried about government but not worried about business. I think we need to be worrying about business in exactly the same way we are worrying about government.”
(the intervieuw can be read here)
The governments in Barlow’s declaration seem to have made place for the big corporations and businesses. The tyrannies threatening our naturally independent social space seem to be rules and regulations designed by the large online corporations. Habbo Hotel seems to not be concerned about creating a independent free social space as long as they keep creating young Habbo consumers. Instead of being part of a global independent social space as desired by Barlow the Habbo way contains a lot of rules and restrictions. Rules and restrictions, according to Westenberg, ‘we don’t mind to agree to’.