Love Online in 2005

Habbo is a paradise, real people play on it

I fell in love with a picture in 2005
1Riiver - 180 x 168 pixels
I watched its words
1Riiver’s thoughts
appear and disappear
on my screen in grey bubbles
red hearts beating in my chest
pixels streaming from my eyes
wild and blue like a river, running

This picture most likely won’t mean anything to anyone but me. It is an avatar from the ‘world’s most popular social hangout for teens’ in the early noughties, Habbo. Opened in 2000 by Finnish corporation, Sulake, Habbo is a free virtual community and social networking service set in a hotel. Google Trends suggests Habbo peaked at 2009, and never really recovered. Known for its pixel art style and isometric room perspective, Habbo gave an impression of a 3D world in 2D graphics. 

On Habbo, users can: design a Habbo (their avatar), design a room, buy ‘Credits’ (virtual currency purchased, to the concern of many parents, with real currency), use credits to buy ‘Furni’ (virtual furniture) or pets, chat, roleplay (I liked Mafia RP), make friends, gamble, play football, troll, get banned for trolling, scam, get banned for scamming, fall in love. In the words of King J on allpoetry.com, ‘Habbo is paradise. / Habbo club get free furni cool. / Real people play on it.’ Unlike Second Life, customization is limited on Habbo: there is no option to design your own content and upload it. So, users must express themselves through a set of defaults – ‘do I want straight hair or pigtails?’ – much like high street shopping.  

In 2005, my avatar met an avatar called 1Riiver. 1Riiver was a white Habbo with a Santa Claus hat, default expression, dark green hoodie, flared black trousers and sandals. Every day for two years, I chatted with 1Riiver, stared as their pixels danced through Habbo’s hallways and, embarrassingly, fell in love. This is the one picture I ever saw of them. I was only 12, but it did make me wonder, if you stare at a picture for long enough, could you fall in love with it?

Main image: 1Riiver, Habbo, 2005. Courtesy: Sulake 

Ella Fleck is a writer, curator based in London, UK. She is co-founder of 650mAh a project space located in MIST Vape Shop in Hove, UK

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