There’s a disturbing exposé piece over at The Guardian right now about the treatment of prisoners at Chinese labor camps.
According to the paper’s report, inmates (many imprisoned for ‘ideological’ crimes) are regularly forced to spend their nights earning virtual currency in online games such as World of Warcraft. One prisoner states that, after a day of backbreaking toil in the mines, he’d be forced to sit in front of a computer monitor for hours and indulge in ‘gold farming’, the practice of building up online currency through the repetition of basic tasks:
“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour. 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 [$770-935] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”
Failing to meet targets in these mammoth gaming sessions was often greeted with physical 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.”
With gamers always willing to cough up real money for these virtual goods, it’s a scary tale of exploitation that doesn’t look like it will go away soon.