The Guardian brings us this little nugget today: A former prisoner at a labor camp in Jixi reports that prisoners are being forced to mine “virtual gold” online for up to 12 hours at a time, in addition to their daily physical labor. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “gold farming”, it basically refers to the building up of online currency (like weapons, credits, character levels, whathaveyou) with hours of play, which is then sold for real money to gamers. From the Guardian:
“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.”
Liu, who’s 56, was imprisoned for petitioning over local corruption, probably one of the saddest convictions out there in China. While gold farming, he says prisoners faced physical abuse for failure to reach virtual quotas.
“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.
It all sounds like something out of a dystopian cybercentric future where virtual “electro-gulags” (h/t @relevantorgans) are full of wrongfully-convicted laborers toiling online until their eyes bleed to provide fat pimply teenagers with their next lvl up. Except that it’s happening now.
Gold farming is anything but a new concept here in China. Nicknamed “playbourers” by some, online farmers produced an estimated £1.2 billion (about $2 billion) in virtual currency back in 2008. With online gaming subscriptions growing, demand for virtual currencies will only rise further in the future. With little or no regulation by the government, it probably means this is just the beginning for virtual prison labor in China.