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The Habbo scandal shows just how far games have come
Last month, UK broadcaster Channel 4 ran a shocking story about the highly-sexualised experience of the teen-focused chat room and virtual world Habbo Hotel. As a result, investors pulled out, retailers stopped stocking Habbo gift cards, Habbo itself took the unprecedented step of "muting" all chat on its service for a while and commentators rightly asked whether Sulake, the owner of Habbo Hotel, had done enough to moderate a service aimed at children and young teenagers.
The Channel 4 News story was an important expose of issues that needed to be raised. But what was striking to me was what didn’t happen as a result.
We didn’t get angry mothers saying that online games were taking away their children’s childhood. We didn’t get ill-informed MPs complaining about the pernicious influence of games. We didn’t get the press saying that "something must be done" about online games.
Channel 4 made some very serious allegations about a single games company. Commentators (rightly) said these allegations were terrible, and Habbo should do something about it. No one blamed games, or the Internet, in general. They all blamed a single company for its own issues.
Habbo needs to get its house in order. But all the rest of us can now breathe a sigh of relief that we will be criticised in the popular press only for own failings, and not for simply being a newfangled technology which can be easily attacked to gain votes or audiences.
This is an enormous step forward.