Chinese prisoners forced to farm video game currency

By on May 26, 2011, 5:52 PM

According to a report by the Guardian, Chinese prisoners are being forced to slave away at MMORPGs. One such detainee claims he was one of 300 people required to play games such as World of Warcraft in 12-hour shifts. That time was spent generation in-game money which the prison guards sold to other players for real-world currency, earning them as much as $924 per day, according to the Guardian's source. Prisoners wouldn't receive any of that money and failing to comply resulted in punishment.

"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," said the former inmate, referred to by the pseudonym Liu Dali. He said that prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to place games than performing manual labor, such as carving wood chopsticks and toothpicks or assembling car seat covers.

If you're unfamiliar with the MMORPG scene, it's common for gamers in the US and EU to purchase in-game currency for real money. Instead of toiling away at the game, it can be more time efficient for gainfully employed players to trade a fraction of their real-world wages for in-game cash. On the flip side, laborers in less developed regions can earn a modest living by selling the digital money to players in countries with stronger real-world currencies. You could say it's a mutually beneficial arrangement.

This practice is largely associated with China, which reportedly accounts for 80% of all gold farmers. There are an estimated 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country who earned nearly $2 billion in 2008, according to the China Internet Center. The Chinese government has tried to regulate the trade of virtual goods by making it illegal for such businesses to operate without a license, but Liu Dali believes there are still many prisons in the nation requiring inmates to play online games against their will.




User Comments: 47

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Lurker101 said:

Makes you wonder what sort of a screwed up world we live in. The Chinese are physically forced against their will to play WoW for hours upon hours a day and we've got fools over here in the west, hordes of morons subjecting themselves to it voluntarily.

cmbjive said:

Gotta love Communism, comrade.

Guest said:

A dream for the jailed gamer.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Just goes to show, one person's indentured slavery is anothers lifestyle choice

davimous said:

Except in the rest of the world you don't get beat with pipes for under performing. Unless you have a mean wife.

Win7Dev said:

You also don't have to deal with guards and crazy people in other countries.

Edit: There are plenty of crazy gamers else ware.

Guest said:

Okey, now, where is that chinese constitution?

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

Except in the rest of the world you don't get beat with pipes for under performing. Unless you have a mean wife.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

This is so surreal. Just the concept of paying someone else to play a computer game for you is weird enough, but to think that there is a prisoner somewhere who is being forced to play your PC for you...too weird.

I guess no different than someone making my shoes or shirt in a sweatshop somewhere, but somewhat more personal.

Guest said:

This is actually more humane than having prisoners do manual labor.

Lurker101 said:

You're kidding, right? Forcing people to play WoW is humane? I consider that to be right up there with waterboarding.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You know that this means China will soon be the fattest country in the world...

Guest said:

Nore hot pockets!

yorro said:

You have two choices.

(1) Mine coal in a sweaty dark cave with dust in your lungs and in your eyes? or (2) sit infront of a computer and mine digital gold while listening to music?

Force labor is nothing new in prison camps. Choice 2 is ingenious BTW

Guest said:

waterboarding?

ihaveaname said:

Am I the only one who thinks that maybe, just maybe, the story isn't 100% legit?

Zecias said:

yorro said:

You have two choices.

(1) Mine coal in a sweaty dark cave with dust in your lungs and in your eyes? or (2) sit infront of a computer and mine digital gold while listening to music?

Force labor is nothing new in prison camps. Choice 2 is ingenious BTW

yeah it might not be humane making them play wow for 12 hours straight but it is a hell of alot better than life threatening manual labor.

ihaveaname said:

Am I the only one who thinks that maybe, just maybe, the story isn't 100% legit?

have u ever played an MMORPG?

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

You know that this means China will soon be the fattest country in the world...

They don't have the wontpower of American's to be Number 1*...nor the determination to make sure that no coronary thrombosis goes unrealised.

(* Small Pacific islands that have been Americanized excluded)

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

They don't have the wontpower of American's to be Number 1*...nor the determination to make sure that no coronary thrombosis goes unrealised.

(* Small Pacific islands that have been Americanized excluded)

OHHHHH thats hitting below the 58" belt.

Timonius Timonius said:

I doubt that these prisoners are actually playing for any entertainment value. Gold farming for 12 hours day after day sure doesn't sound like fun does it?

On the flip side something is seriously messed up when a computer game actually creates a virtual real world economy (is that an oxymoron?).

aj_the_kidd said:

Guest said:

There are an estimated 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country who earned nearly $2 billion in 2008

Who knew? Never even heard on gold-farming until now. Just going by those numbers, thats an average of $2,000 per person, not so impressive over a course of a year. Will keep my day job (of which i should be doing right now)

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I remember a story of a China bloke a few months back who basically just dropped dead after 3 days of solid gaming in an internet cafe. You do have to wonder what it's doing for their mental health.

Better than physical labour?....I wouldn't say so.

hitech0101 said:

Human rights have been breached that's all i can say.

Gars Gars said:

'grinding' and 'farming' are not equal to 'playing'

'playing' implies some enjoyment - questing, parties, dungeons, etc

and for sure excludes plastic pipes (imo)

mailpup mailpup said:

I remember a story of a China bloke a few months back who basically just dropped dead after 3 days of solid gaming in an internet cafe.
I believe that was a South Korean gamer.

Guest said:

A close re-read of the article would show that these people are forced, on pain of being beaten, to play games in order to supplement the real-world income of their guards--who beat them if they don't make a quota. And this all happens AFTER the prisoners have had to do a full day of hard labour. How this equates to a free person coming home from school or their day job to be online with their buddies and play for pleasure, I'm just not seeing.

It's bizarre, yes--but it's certainly not a free ticket. If I got somehow thrown into this prison, had to work at hard labour for God knows how many hours (surely someone else's idea of a "full day", not me with my regular 9 hours at a desk?), then told instead of resting I have to sit at a computer and play a game until I drop so someone else can make real money selling what amount to pixels... then had to get up at crack of dawn to rinse and repeat, on sub-standard prison fare--somehow I doubt I'd be enjoying anything.

NunjaBusiness said:

Guest said:

A close re-read of the article would show that these people are forced, on pain of being beaten, to play games in order to supplement the real-world income of their guards--who beat them if they don't make a quota. And this all happens AFTER the prisoners have had to do a full day of hard labour. How this equates to a free person coming home from school or their day job to be online with their buddies and play for pleasure, I'm just not seeing.

Actually, you have only to read the first paragraph of the original story to see that. I'd wager many people commenting only read the Techspot synopsis and that part is left out here.

Guest said:

I don't understand why everyone has sympathy for prisoners. They did bad things and now get their just punishment. They did something wrong and now they want to complain? Should have thought about that before they committed the crime. And don't bring human rights into this. When you rape steal and murder you take someone else human rights away. Let them farm let them work teach them how to be constructive citizens.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

When I first read the head line I was thinking "dang that doesn't sound so bad " but after reading the whole article and from my experience with voluntarily farming money/items - it can be very tedious and boring. Now throw in threats of a beating if you don't farm enough gold and being forced to do it for 12hrs straight...sounds a lot less appealing.

But they are in prison for a reason (hopefully) so I'm not saying they shouldn't be punished.

AnonymousSurfer AnonymousSurfer said:

holy shit. If I ever go to be a prison guard, it will be in China definitely. $900 a day to make prisoners farm in games sounds like a great job.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Sitting there farming gold with the anxiety knowing that you're gonna get beat if you don't do well would really suck. I've run into these people in game, and this explains a lot of their behavior.

Don't get me wrong... after being the victim of quite a few thefts and knowing vicitms of crimes far far worse, I dont' care at all if prisoners are forced to do labor. Be it WoW, sewing clothes or crushing rocks. No, they shouldn't be beaten, but you won't see me outside that prison with a sign decrying human rights violations.

jetkami said:

I am Chinese and got locked up for a month while I visited my Seifu. I was forced to play console game versions of my favorite pc games. It....was ....why god why!

Guest said:

This is soo hilarious. Now I'm really glad I never bought any of that gold. As if China doesn't make enough money from us for real products, now we pay them for imaginary products?? The irony is that we're not supposed to buy the stupid gold in the first place. And for people gaming themselves to death, it's the high tech method of trying to "fix stupid." Bye bye gene pool. The pipes is uncalled for (unless they're in jail for beating other people). Just make them get ganked.

treetops treetops said:

Chinese gold farmers eh. Well I always figured they were in sweat shops not prisons. Goes to show we need a global dollar our unlinked economies really screw things up for the common people.

Zeromus said:

Someone needs to stop this country.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Someone needs to stop this country.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Economics trumps morality every time.

Just out of interest, where are the components in your computer made/assembled/packaged...and likely recycled when their time comes?

Guest said:

do the math again, $20000 per person per year

Zeromus said:

I'm gonna interpret that with a deep implication, and with that, would you have the slightest bit of sympathy for these people? I understand they could be beaten for anything, but forced to grind on someones account?

"Yeah they make my stuff, and they need to be forced under these similar circumstances for years to help the economy of other countries. There's nothing anyone can do about it, might as well make the best out of it."

That's a personal cruelty as the finest example of itself.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

I'm gonna interpret that with a deep implication, and with that, would you have the slightest bit of sympathy for these people? I understand they could be beaten for anything, but forced to grind on someones account?

"Yeah they make my stuff, and they need to be forced under these similar circumstances for years to help the economy of other countries. There's nothing anyone can do about it, might as well make the best out of it."

That's a personal cruelty as the finest example of itself.

How's the air up there?

Don't go confusing a statement of fact with indifference

There's nothing anyone can do about it, might as well make the best out of it."

So, tell me, how do you plan to initiate a campaign to force mainland China to abide by a western ideal of human rights?

Can this plan be widened to include human trafficking ? enviromental pollution ? Tibetan autonomy ? the killing of female children ?...

Or should your message:

Someone needs to stop this country

actually read: "Someone needs to stop this country. I'll get right behind anyone who comes up with a workable plan. Post the details on my facebook wall by the end of the day, but don't leave it too late 'cos I'll need to rail against game developers, the RIAA, or new model toasters lacking USB3.0 support in tomorrows post.

gingerbill said:

It beats breaking rocks with a sledgehammer . It's hardly a substantiated story either , i don't think we should be looking down on chinese jails either , US has the most overcrowded prison system in history with plenty doing labour to make money for the goverment , its an entire multi billion dollar industry. America also has more people behind bars per population head than any civilisation in history.

Zeromus said:

When you asked me where my computer parts came from, it seemed inappropriate to place me as ungrateful for their existence. I wanted to know if you had any sympathy for these people even as ridiculous as it seems to put them under labor to increase mere integer values in some game. Well, that's what I assumed, you are well within your rights to correct me instead of making it particularly difficult for me to clear these things up. I have no plans to make China a better country, and I probably won't be involved in some organized movement anytime soon, I just expressed a disbelief that China would let this kind of power extend so far as to benefit something like virtual commerce. You mentioned more pressing issues about the country to under-influence my blatant suggestion, those are insightful but I doubt it would be any help to inform me.

How's the air up there?

Don't go confusing a statement of fact with indifference

Well I'm glad that's not what you meant. Perhaps you were really worried about my computer parts?

Someone needs to stop this country

actually read: "Someone needs to stop this country. I'll get right behind anyone who comes up with a workable plan. Post the details on my facebook wall by the end of the day, but don't leave it too late 'cos I'll need to rail against game developers, the RIAA, or new model toasters lacking USB3.0 support in tomorrows post.

I don't understand why I deserved that, and it doesn't make anyone seem any worldlier to assume me as such. I can only assume that you hold a superior position in worldly views and put mine as contemptible, if so I have no defense against that. That quoted sentence was just an attempt to understand why you would ask me where my parts came from, to question that country's significance in everyone's modern life. It was presumptuous in that If we're in such a technological asymptote, we should be grateful for the circumstances that brought China it's significant role. At least I'm trying to be as compassionate as possible; I apologize.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

When you asked me where my computer parts came from, it seemed inappropriate to place me as ungrateful for their existence

Personally I don't care whether you're grateful for "Made in China" or not TBH.

My observation was centred upon the fact that people wax grandiloquent about "stopping" a country...while simultaneously using products made by said country from keyboard to website to make the statement.

My personal take on the situation would be:

1. What were these people convicted of. Does the punishment fit the crime ?

2. If 1 = Yes, and this punishment were not being used, what alternative labour would they be undertaking?

3a. If 1 = No, and I felt strongly enough to post my outrage on a site, I might (as example) petition Blizzard et al- to blacklist game accounts/IP's and try to enlist a groundswell of support on the game forums.

3b. If 1 = No, but I had neither the inclination or determination to invest time, resources or effort into trying to effect a solution...well, I probably wouldn't take the bait to make a generalized statement, which leaves little open for interpretation

you are well within your rights to correct me instead of making it particularly difficult for me to clear these things up.

You were expecting kid gloves ?

An absolutist statement:

Someone needs to stop this country.

...followed by ascribing an assumption of a lack of empathic concern:

That's a personal cruelty as the finest example of itself.

_________________

You mentioned more pressing issues about the country to under-influence my blatant suggestion, those are insightful but I doubt it would be any help to inform me.

I presume you mean undermine. Again you seem to ascribing an assumption not supported by the text. The other human rights "issues" are there to demonstrate that

1. mainland China has a vast and ongoing lack of interest in human rights, and

2. forcing prisoners to play WoW probably needs to placed into perspective against some of the more pressing cases of abuse (i.e. executing prisoners and harvesting organs for translantation)

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I still a bit baffled about the punishment aspect of this. After all, some people consider "Farmville" and "Second Life" the rapture. I suppose if I were to be sentenced to something this idiotic, I'd opt for the needle. That said, everyone knows I'm a bit "different".

I suppose if the prisoners were taunted on the way back for the computer lab with jeers of, "get a life", that might be considered cruel and unusual.

Meantime the message is fairly clear, (at least to those not interested in video games), "don't f*** up in China".

As to the rest of you morally superior elitist windbags, another message should be equally clear, shut your collective yaps, put your money where you morality is,and start buying iPhones made with USA union labor for maybe, oh say, 2000 bucks a pop.

Luurch said:

Does any one else see the problem with this picture? 2 things i spotted, for one, doubting this is a prison why would there be someone in the foreground allowed to take video, and what is up with all the empty chairs? 930 bux a day? hell sign me up!

Lokalaskurar Lokalaskurar said:

Benny26 said:

I remember a story of a China bloke a few months back who basically just dropped dead after 3 days of solid gaming in an internet cafe. You do have to wonder what it's doing for their mental health.

Better than physical labour?....I wouldn't say so.

Agree with you there, none-humane labour will still be considered 'non-humane' so to speak. And gaming away for 3 solid days, that's seriously demanding for your body as well as your mind. Making up for the lack of sleep with say, Coke, will only make it worse. At least the Chinese prisoners get to sleep between shifts of gaming.

Running prisons is very costly after all, at least in China. So making the bill a little smaller would probably sound attractive to the average jail-owner (government). It doesn't really make up for their "gas-chamber vans" though, it's still very inhumane.

I believe it was a South Korean gamer.

I actually thought so too. But the article on the BBC website said 'Chinese gamer drops dead' - so unless they got something mixed up, he was Chinese all right.

Guest said:

You know, I was with this story until I came across:

"performing manual labor, such as carving wood chopsticks and toothpicks"

They would have us believe that chopsticks are whittled with a Bowie knife? Toothpicks turned on a lathe?

olibenu said:

demand & supply

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