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.

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