In the summer of ’05, I commanded an army. I hadn’t planned on it, but things just sorta played out that way.
I was in highschool and didn’t have a whole lot to do at the time, so I decided to check out this hype called Habbo Hotel. I liked the art style, and I was into multiplayer games and chatting on MSN all afternoon, so it was a no-brainer.
I was barely 17 at the time, and my first encounter with a fellow hotel guest was a 14 year old british girl in the lobby. After asking my age, she replied “Oh. Aren’t you a little old to be here?”, in a moment of apparent realization about the immaturity of the whole establishment. I got the feeling the vast majority of guests were like her, bored chav teens who ditched MSN for something more substantial. But instead of a hindrance, my advanced age proved to give me a sort of cheerful ambivalence as I wandered around the hotel, much the same way I imagine parents look at the petty squabbles and futile flirtations of teens and go “that’s nice”.
The lay of the land
I hung around a few public areas, picked up the lingo at the local bar, and soon aquired my own room. Rooms at the hotel can be fully customized with furniture, or Furni in Habbo slang, one of the first examples of microtransactions. You can buy Furni with coins (that you in turn have to buy with real money), but it became clear that Furni was the real currency of this place. How much Furni you had was a status symbol. Scams ran amok. Many guests clamored at wealthy patrons, participating in grueling trials known as Giveaways, which very rarely paid out, but almost always charged an entrance fee. I think you get the picture.
But there was one reliable (if slow) way of getting Furni: getting a job.
Jobs in the Habbo Hotel consisted mainly of working in the army or some other pretend establishment. The British Army, The US Army, The Devils Army; I don’t know what it was with those kids but running armies was were it was at. One day I was approached to join the Hispanic Army, and I thought sure, why not.
So, I showed up at their headquarters for my initiation. The rules were simple: when on duty you had to wear a uniform, which at the time was an all-black apparel I think. Not a lot of what you would consider as ‘core army stuff’ was involved, our job was basically to spread the gospel of the army, which consisted of sitting in the army lobby or going out into the hotel to find new recruits. There were no rosters or anything, you could just show up whenever you wanted and you would be ‘on duty’, so it was more a formality than an actual job. But then again if you never showed your face you probably wouldn’t get paid either. It paid one Furni a week, and if you did a good job and you might get promoted. Simple.
Rise to power
Thus began my time as a glorified receptionist, basically. Their lobby was just a public room that was divided into sections by Furni barriers and gates, and people would wander in all day to hang out or ask questions. After I was initiated I was allowed entry to the first restricted section. The second restricted section was for VIPs, and the final section for the big cheeses. It was lavishly decorated with the most rare furni, mocha vending machines, and a teleporter that could take you to even more exclusive backrooms.
I was ‘on duty’ a lot with fellow recruits AznXchicka and Youngsterjoe, and we became a bit of a team, mainly because we had more sense that the rest of the recruits. We actually made an effort instead of just dicking around the employee lounge. There was something cozy about it, chatting and doing things together, and if we were lucky, on a friday afternoon a general would move the mocha machine into our section and we could all enjoy a cup together.
And so it was not long before we got promoted, and were involved in more active roles within the army. One of which was attacking rival armies, which basically came down to mobbing their HQ so their own people could not get in the room, and spamming the chat inside. It was the most army-like thing we did, and it was trolling in its purest form, but somehow it was a lot of fun.
As time went on I rose through the ranks quickly, leaving behind AznX and Joe for more powerful friends. Friends like Flucito, one of the Army’s generals with whom I shared an interest for webdesign. He took me under his wing, and it wasn’t long before I met the leader of the army, Chaos, and his right-hand girl Evil-Latina.
Chaos at the top
Chaos recognized my loyalty to the army, and it wasn’t long before I made it into the high command. He shared some of his wealth with me and bestowed me admin rights to his army. We became friends, even outside Habbo, and by the time I left the army I was listed as a co-founder. I’m not really sure anymore what we did in that time, a lot of hanging around mostly, but it felt good.
But Chaos was a troubled man. He would sometimes disappear for days to deal with personal issues, and when he returned we never spoke of it. He was prone to bouts of anger, and more than once I was in a room alone with him and Evil-Latina going at it. They seemed to have a troubled relationship, but Flucito and I were not ones to pry. We’d retire to the VIP room and drink some more mochas. And if the recruits were lucky, on a friday afternoon, we’d move the machine into their section and enjoy a cup together.
When things got especially heated in the high command, for reasons I cannot remember, Chaos abandoned his throne for quite some time. With that, the army fell into disarray, and I chose to retire with my amassed treasure, returning to being a man of leisure. It was not long after that I departed from the hotel entirely.
Looking back on it all it was an incredibly strange but exciting time. It had been a carbon-copy of the standard ‘rise to power’ story. Except I didn’t end up sleeping with the pixelated fishes. If you look at it now it seems like one big exercise in futility, but back then it gave us purpose. We belonged to something greater. And maybe that was enough.
I logged on today for old time’s sake, the first time in 68 months, to enjoy one last mocha among my spoils of war.