Liu Dali, a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp in the Heilongjiang province in China, has detailed his strange ordeal as he was forced to produce virtual gold as part of his incarceration. Liu would perform backbreaking mining tasks, carve toothpicks and chopsticks from wood planks, memorise communist literature and assemble car seat covers – and also hop into games like World of Warcraft to perform mundane and repetitive tasks to acquire gold.
Liu told the Guardian about the odd forced labour:
There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard [the guards] say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [US$770-925] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off. Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour.
The task he performed, known as “gold-farming”, is benefited from by millions of gamers who are willing to pay real money for virtual credits inside a game. If Liu did not meet his work quota, he was punished 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.” Liu said he played for so long he could “barely see things.”
While Liu was released in 2007, he still believes the business is lucrative for prison guards as they can make more money from gold-farming than other manual labour tasks. The Guardian notes that around 80% of all gold farmers come from China, with a total full-time population of around 100,000. In China, it is illegal for businesses to trade fictional currencies without a license, but it seems prisons are somewhat exempt and brutally exploit inmates to produce fictional gold.