Virtual worlds have been around for years. Even the best-selling Sims computer game has an online version in which people create characters, build homes and interact with others. But while The Sims Online has so far been a flop, Habbo has been an instant hit. Why? Habbo's focus on teens and chatting is one reason, as is its price tag: it's free. Despite the no-charge admission, there are oodles of games to play and rooms to explore. Habbo also has some healthy rules: the site blocks all swearwords and has adult moderators. Teens can send private notes through the site, but exchanging real email or IM addresses is prohibited. (As with all online activity, kids find ways around the bans, so parental supervision is a must.)
Get started on Habbo by creating a customized character. You can be a slacker in a sweat suit or a nerd in a sweater vest. You can have green hair, a blue Mohawk or an oversize Afro. Next, explore public spaces like Palazzo Pizza, where you can grab a slice, or the Habbosphere Pool Deck, where you can go for a swim or jump off the diving board. Then check out the guest rooms created by users. You can gamble in the casino rooms or try to meet someone in the dating rooms. There are lots of gangs and groups, like the U.S. Army, which always needs recruits, and the Blood Vampire Gang, which draws a ghoulish crowd.
Create a room of your own for the most fun. Rooms are free, but you need Habbo Coins (25 for $5, payable by credit card or money order) to buy furniture and decorations. Stuck with an annoying guest? Click the "kick" button to eject someone. Just be careful of scammers people who try to trick you into buying furniture for their rooms. On Habbo, as in life, it pays to know who your true friends are.