After a hard day of work, many come home and play mind-numbing video games to escape from reality for a while. But what if, after a full day of hard physical labor, you came home and were forced to play those games through all hours of the night? Quickly, the escapism of video games becomes its own harsh reality. This is exactly the narrative that the Guardian found unfolding in Jixi labor camp in China.
A former inmate at the camp tells of hard days of manual labor followed by bleary-eyed nights playing online games in order to accrue virtual credits for resale, a practice referred to as "gold farming." The inmate said guards of the labor camp would force around 300 prisoners to play games for hours on end. Their gaming labor would apparently garner $800 in profit per day.
The unofficial trade in virtual currency has been an accepted practice since the explosion of games like World of Warcraft, which depend on credits to move forward. China has been home to a massive gold farming industry for years, so much so that in 2009, Beijing addressed the practice with a directive to govern how trade could be carried out. It is estimated that 80% of those engaged in 'farming' reside in China, with approximately 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country. Chinese officials estimate almost $2 billion of the virtual currency was traded in China alone in 2008.