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Chinese Prisoners Forced to Play Online Video Games in Lucrative ‘Gold Farming’ Enterprise

Chinese prisoners are being forced to play online games to earn virtual credits that are then sold abroad to gamers for real money, a practice known as gold farming.

There's gold in them there games… (Photo: Juan Pablo Olmo)

One former Chinese prisoner, 54-year-old Liu Dali, told Britain’s Guardian that his days were spent breaking rocks and digging trenches at the Jixi Re-education Through Labor camp and his nights were spent in mind-numbing forced shifts playing online video games to collect virtual credits. He says guards would then trade the credits for real money, earning as much as 5,000- 6,000 yuan ($770- $924) a day, of which he didn’t see a penny.

“Prison bosses made more money from forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labor,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp… The computers were never turned off.”

Liu, who was a former prison guard himself until he found himself on the wrong side of Chinese authorities after he “illegally petitioned” the Beijing government over corruption in his hometown, said prisoners were punished for not making enough online gold.

“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically,” he told the Guardian. “They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.”

It is estimated that there are 100,000 full-time gold farmers in China, 80% of the world’s total. Gold farmers perform the tedious work of getting online gamers through the lower levels of video games such as World of Warcraft. They accumulate credits that they trade for real money and often earn more than they would laboring in a factory. The China Internet Center says nearly $2 billion in virtual currency was traded in China in 2008. Despite central government restrictions on how this currency can be traded, many gold farmers and those who exploit them simply ignore the law.

“China is the factory of virtual goods,” University of California researcher Jin Ge told the Guardian. “You would see some exploitation where employers would make workers play 12 hours a day. They would have no rest through the year.”

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