Chinese gold farms have long been the bane of anyone interested in the virtual economy of online games like World of Warcraft, but it seems that the situation may be more surreal than anyone could have imagined. Chinese prisoners are being forced to play these games to make money for their guards and prisons.
Gold farming has been around almost as long as continuous online worlds have. As players play the game, they collect rewards in the form of an in-game currency, which for World of Warcraft (WOW) is gold. Players who have all day to play can end up having a large amount of gold, which they can then sell, through resellers, to other players.
Running a gold farming business doesn't make sense in the US, where wages would be higher than revenues; however, the depressed currency of China allows for a profit after wages, and thus gold farms sprung up all over the place. Like any good CEO, some people in China eventually realized that they could create even more profit if they didn't have to pay their employees at all, and thus Chinese prisoners have become the latest block of WOW gold farmers.
The Guardian website tells the story of Liu Dali, who was in prison for illegally petitioning the government about corruption. He used to have to do manual labor during his imprisonment, but that changed over the years as guards realized that they could make much more money by having the prisoners farm gold in World of Warcraft.
Fox News reports that Chinese prisoners played WOW in 12-hour shifts, would receive beatings if they missed their daily quotas, and saw none of the profits that their work created. According to Dali, "They would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things."
Anyone who thinks that playing a game for hours on end isn't that bad has obviously never farmed for gold in one of these games. The most profit is made by finding a lucrative spot and performing the same tasks over and over again for hours. After just a few hours, most people will give up due to extreme boredom and sensory impairment. Forcing people to farm WOW for 12 hours straight and administering random beatings simply amounts to torture.
With reports of 100,000 full-time online farmers in China, the situation is so profitable that it is unlikely that the situation will change anytime soon. Anyone who comes across an obvious gold farmer in WOW, or any of these games, should probably go a little easy on them. After all, harass them too much and they might just get beat with a pipe.
Image source: Wikipedia