The Virtuality of Virtual Worlds, or What We Can Learn from Playacting Horse Girls and Marginalized Developers


Direct all correspondence to Mikael Johnson, National Consumer Research Centre, P.O. Box 5, FI-00531 Helsinki, Finland; e-mail: mikael.johnson@iki.f.


This article discusses the emergence of Habbo Hotel as a large-scale virtual world and its changing versions through time. We consider how social events taking place within the hotel are conditioned by designed-in symbolic resources and how, in turn, with creative processes of symbolization, novel social objects emerge out of particular interactions. We then discuss how the membership trajectories of hotel members are essential in understanding how these interactions are shaped and evolve. We also look at how the digital infrastructure and its evolution lends itself to being material for actualizing particular social worlds within the hotel and how the trajectory of the infrastructure reflects the relationship between the user and the developer communities of Habbo. Finally, we discuss why, to understand more fully what virtual worlds consist of at large, analysts should look into the mutually constitutive interactions among users, developers, and surrounding business models over longer periods of time in the constantly varying actualization of any given virtual world.