Chinese Prisons Forcing Inmates to Mine Gold…Online?


Via Julian Sanchez's always-rich Twitter feed comes this terrifying tale of alleged prison abuse in 21st century China, where hard labor is migrating from meatspace to cyberspace:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online gamesto build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

"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."

Whole story in the U.K. Guardian.

The Guardian, being the Guardian naturally, has to put an anti-capitalist spin on it all:

The trading of virtual currencies in multiplayer games has become so rampant in China that it is increasingly difficult to regulate. In April, the Sichuan provincial government in central China launched a court case against a gamer who stole credits online worth about 3000rmb.

The lack of regulations has meant that even prisoners can be exploited in this virtual world for profit….

In 2009 the central government issued a directive defining how fictional currencies could be traded, making it illegal for businesses without licences to trade. But Liu, who was released from prison before 2009 believes that the practice of prisoners being forced to earn online currency in multiplayer games is still widespread.

Thank Mao the government is stepping in to crack down on unlicensed businessess. Maybe next they can crack down on unlicensed workers, especially unlicensed journalists…wait, where could all this kind-hearted regulation end…?

It is disturbing that China might exploit its prisoners in such ways (prison labor in most of the West is voluntary) but it's hardly surprising that they would come up with new ways to do so. If near-totalitarian states are fashion-forward in anything, it's in new ways of making human existence miserable.

NEXT: Virginia Postrel on Oprah's All-American "Binge Dreaming"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Which is worse being forced to play World of War Craft all day or forced to work in a coal mine. And man I bet these guys kick ass. I don’t play online games but if I did, the next someone kicked my ass online, I would now it was probably some poor fulon gong bastard stuck in a Chinese prison.

    1. Actually, the chinese gold farmers are the worst players, since all they do is kill computer generated characters all day and have terrible gear. So rest assured that you’ve probably been killed by a 16 year old american, brazilian, or korean.

      1. I don’t play, so I am confused. If they are lousy players and have bad equipment, how do they manage to get credits for their masters to sell?

        1. Maybe they play against North Korean gold miners.

        2. You get gold from killing monsters and monsters drop items that you can sell to other players. So basically they just kill things for 12 hours in a row and sell what they get from them.
          All the good gear comes from “dungeons” where you need to have like 25 man “raids” or something.

          1. My roommate used to play literally all day on weekends back in grad school.
            He would forget to eat and wouldn’t get up for anything unless he really really had to piss.

          2. That is why I don’t play. It would be pretty fun if you could go solo. But I would hate to have to deal with the other douche bags to get anything done.

      2. I disagree. Mobs do drop some decent loot per mob in MOunt Hyjal, Deepholm, Twightlight highlands, and the other two new zones. Seeing how Twighligh highlands is an 82-85 zone, you’d probably want some good armor, else you will have downtime to restore health and mana. So I would guess that they have some of the better armor.

        Plus stuff can be sold at the auction house. If these guys play in groups, they could do 5-man instances and get the better loot and sell it for gold. I think it is a good question as to whether you can make more gold grinding mobs or getting the good loot in the instances.

  2. Who are we to interfere in their chosen lifestyle?

  3. In other news, Thomas Friedman has successfully reached the highest level in World of Warcraft in record time.

    1. LOL. Actually Friedman got an even worse sentence. He is in administrative segregation being forced to write stupid shit for the New York Times every week. I am sure he is begging to play World of Warcraft.

  4. 12 hours a day sounds like nothing compared to the average world of warcraft player.

    1. Yeah, I’ve played a lot more than that on my days off. It’s a fun game, but it’s more addictive than any drug I’ve had.

  5. You know, if the people we put in jail were all real criminals like murderers and rapists and such and not nonviolent drug offenders and the like, I wouldn’t be opposed to an organized prison life, whether it’s labor or boot camp or whatever. He’ll, it could just be forced education; something to keep them busy and not just training to be better criminals while raping an murdering all day. I guess that’s a pretty big ‘if’, though, especially in China where you go to jail for looking at the wrong person or excessive use of pronouns or something.

    1. All prisoners should be issued lazyboys and 20 boxes of twinkies per day and 24/7 televison.

      They should all come out of the joint 400 lbs and unable to run more than 30 feet.

      1. an they should be able to smoke weed so the game would be more interesting and they wouldnt get bored and they could eat 40 boxes of twinkies and weigh even more!

  6. If only we could apply this to America /friedman’s next column

  7. “The lack of regulations has meant that even prisoners can be exploited in this virtual world for profit.”

    That mindless statement is gold (ha ha). Exactly what kind of regulation does Teh Garudian think would control this? I admit I haven’t read most EULAs very closely, and probably the Chinese prison system doesn’t either, but even if there were a clause in there that said, “Do not imprison people and force them to play this game”, we’d probably ignore it.

    1. Pretty sure they’re busy ignoring the whole “no selling of game items for real money” part of the ToS. So, yeah.

  8. Two things:

    1. Frequently the trading of real money for in-game resources is a violation of the agreement between the user and the game owner. The issue is the lack of the ability to enforce these contracts in China, not regulation. Blizzard can and does ban folks who do this from the game when they can track it down.

    2. Because of 1, gold farmers frequently resort to hacking existing gamers’ accounts in order to engage in farming. Blizzard has introduced systems to help prevent this, which has no doubt added to the stressful pressures and terrible conditions placed on gold farmers.

    Gold farming is potentially a serious issue for the economics of an online gaming company. It creates massive amounts of virtual inflation that can make it very difficult for players who don’t want to purchase gold with real-world money to compete with those who do. Then those folks drop out and the game company loses customers due to the behavior of third parties. It would actually be interesting for a libertarian-minded economist with a gaming background to explore the subject.

    1. I think Blizzard is to blame for this. First, standard libertarian disclaimer, it is their game and they can do what they want.

      But to get the better armor, you either have to put in hundreds of hours of grinding for honor points, whether it be PVP or instancing (yeah I know there are different kinds of points for PVP vs. instancing, but that just makes my point more relevant). And the stuff that is sold at the auction house is super expensive. So causual gamers might not think it is worth all the time. Plus, as you level, your armor becomes obsolete.

      I think they should do something like dungeons and dragons. When you complete and instance and kill the boss mob, you have to roll for the loot. Even if you win the roll for the loot, it may be useless to you. I.e. a mage winning plate armor. So blizzard should to like D&D and EVERYONE gets a piece of nice, RELEVANT loot.

      1. The hundreds of hours grinding is not just the way Blizzard likes it, it’s also the way the players want it. Take a look at the WoW forums sometime and you’ll see that for every player complaining about how casual unfriendly the game is there are at least 30 players telling him to stuff his whining up his ass and quit the game so the big boys can play.

        1. The game has become remarkably easy at lower levels (and it was already easier than most MMOs).

          They have done a good job at making grinding less necessary to get to the maximum level (I was quite shocked that it took me only a week of casual play to hit the new cap with Cataclysm). But then the grind kicks in because there really isn’t any efficient/economical way to keep gamers playing (and paying the subscription fees). I ended up quitting because I wasn’t interested in raiding or PVP and found the daily quests as exciting as playing a Facebook game.

          Also, I got hacked when I stopped actively playing for a couple of months (fortunately not a keylogger), so for a while I was unwittingly was one of those farmers. I considered getting the authenticator to prevent future hacking but realized I wasn’t interested in the game anymore.

          1. Exactly. Blizzard wants everyone to reach max level in minimal time so the addiction will take hold. The hardcore PvPers and raiders don’t want casual players in their game. If you’re not dedicated to playing 12 hours a day then you should just cancel your account as far as they’re concerned.

            The only people you’ll find buying gold are the people that want to be part of the “in crowd”. What they don’t know is that the only way to be in the in crowd is to be in the in crowd, you can’t buy your way in. There is a point in the game when money becomes useless because you can’t spend gold on upgrades.

  9. It’s only torture if they make you fish. Or, god forbid, level archaeology.

  10. Hey, at least with archaeology you get the useless little toys that add to your WoW cred.

  11. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown

    That sentence has multiple dimensions of nut-punching

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.