DUDE WTF ASIA: China Forcing Prisoners in Virtual Gold Farming

Having been a game reviewer for ages who hasn’t found a genre of video games that I didn’t like, I’m not surprised when I read that China had gold farming prisons. I actually have participated in gold farming in games like Second Life when it was still legal.  Gold farming, if you’ve never heard of the term before, is basically the process of doing tedious work in a virtual world for items that you then sell for real currency. While most game operators expressly forbid the exchange of money for virtual items, there are multiple black markets for these sort of things and the ideal really comes from the fact that if the game operator can make you pay for it, then there’s some sort of economic means to sell those items too.

For former prisoner Liu Dali, part of his daily activity was to play endless video games.

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”

The interesting part here is that according to the article, prison’s system of gold farming is corrupt. While the prisoners’ are exploited for this type of work, I wouldn’t think that they would ever see a dime for their efforts, even if we did this in our own prison system. Does the Chinese government actually pocket revenue from gold farming or are the funds going to side projects for prison officials? If it’s the latter, I would imagine that the government would probably throw the book at those people if the PR got bad enough but otherwise turn a blind eye to it while it was going on.

What’s interesting here is also the legal loophole. The transaction of one virtual item from one avatar to another literally has no value. So if my avatar gives you some weapon within the game, there actually is nothing illegal being done there. Neither is there anything illegal being done through gaining the virtual item, or the real world transaction of currency (one individual pays another individual money in the same fashion PayPal or other services move money). So there’s not too much that a game operator can do unless the owners of the avatars are breaking gaming policy which is a very difficult thing to prove.

I think the if there is anything going on that I would really question, would be the point I made above. If the government facility is being used for personal gains, then there’s something awfully wrong and corrupt going on there. However, if that is part the punishment for re-joining society, then I don’t think I’m the one to judge how another country treats their prisoners. Outside of that, the whole gold-farming in a prison isn’t some huge OMFG eye-opener.

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About Ben

Ben Hwang is involved in a number of online publications and also writes at his personal blog, LUX.ET.UMBRA. When he's not in the middle of starting companies and dreaming up new ventures, he is heavily involved in local community efforts. Currently resides in North Carolina.
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