Goldfarmen Macht FreiGold farming in Chinese prisons.
Fyodor Dostoevsky supposedly once said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” If that’s true, then Chinese society must be the most civilized because I’ve never heard of another country letting their prisoners play computer games at night.
Wait, they are forced to do it? And they are tortured and beaten if they don’t meet specific gold farming quotas?
Okay, fine. But it sure beats breaking rocks and digging trenches. Wait, they do that during the day? Well shit.
Liu Dali (not his real name), a former prison guard, told the Guardian that during his three year bid in prison, he was forced to farm money in online games, which his guards then sold for real money. Liu was in jail for foolishly trying to draw attention to corruption in his hometown. Bet he wishes he’d kept his mouth shut and just made his prisoners play World of Warcraft.
In Liu’s own words:
“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.”
Gold farming is real and most of the gold farmers in the world are based in China. The phenomenon is the result of a confluence of factors: favorable exchange rates; feckless law enforcement; surplus of cheap labor (especially young and male); and widespread Internet access alongside widespread poverty.
The 12-hour shifts that Liu mentions are standard for any gold farming company but the guards are most likely exaggerating their profits. Profits up to $1,000 a day are only made by middlemen companies, which buy gold from Chinese farmers and sell it to foreign players, pocketing the difference. Call it virtual arbitrage. It is unlikely that Dongbei prison guards sell gold directly to American players—more likely, they sell the gold to a middleman company.
But what happened to the accidental gamer in jail is perhaps not exaggerated. Again his own words:
“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. 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,” he said.
Though the Chinese government is constantly passing regulations aimed at policing online gaming and virtual currency, Liu believes this kind of exploitation to be widespread. Regardless of how you feel about gold farming and the buying and selling of virtual goods, this type of blatant exploitation is despicable. But maybe this is what happens when you combine a heartless regime, endemic corruption, and the blind lust for money.
The article doesn’t mention what, if anything, will happen to these guards. It also makes no mention of Chinese media picking up this story. And even if they did, would they really defend a convicted felon?
In the interest of fairness, here’s a quote from a Telegraph article:
However, an official at the central office for labour camps in Heilongjiang denied that inmates were forced to play games online. “I have never heard of this. If you want to see for yourself, come to one of our labour camps,” he said.
The official, who declined to give his name, said: “We do not allow our inmates to do high-risk occupations, such as coal-mining. We do not have large numbers of computers. And we do not allow our prisoners to have any contact with the outside world. If they were playing these online games they could easily communicate with other people. We would never allow that.”
What he is saying makes logical sense, but it sounds like what the warden of Shawshank State Penitentiary would have said if he’d been interviewed by the press.
I really can’t decide how much of this story to believe and if the original interview weren’t from the Guardian I might have disregarded it entirely. I guess there’s only one way to know for sure: next time you’re on WoW, do a search and tell me if there’s an unguilded hunter named Aiweiwei killing mobs in the middle of nowhere. That would settle it.