Chinese prisoners forced to slay dragons, mine gold in online games
Prisoners at a labor camp in northeast China were forced to slay dragons and battle wizards in online games to earn virtual gold that prison guards then sold for real currency, the Guardian newspaper reports.
About 300 prisoners at the Jixi labor camp, located about 18 miles from neighboring Russia, were required to play games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest to earn credits that could be later hawked online to other gamers for cash, former prisoner Liu Dali told the Guardian.
"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labor," Liu said. "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 to 6,000 renminbi [about $770-$925] a day.
"We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."
Liu, a former prison guard who was reportedly imprisoned for three years in 2004 for illegally petitioning the government about hometown corruption, told the Guardian that the prisoners also mined coal, dug trenches, carved toothpicks and assembled car seat covers for export.
But he believes that "gold farming" -- a gaming term that refers to collecting virtual currency through often repetitive tasks in multiplayer games -- was the cash cow as the numbers of gamers in China skyrockets.
According to the China Internet Center, Chinese gamers traded almost $2 billion worth of virtual currency in 2008, the Guardian reports, and an estimated 100,000 people work full-time farming virtual gold in China. The central government has attempted to regulate the trade of such currency by requiring businesses to have licenses.
-- Shan Li
Photo: Screen shot from the hotly anticipated game World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Credit: Blizzard Entertainment