Apparently there's a new type of chain gang -- a virtual one. According to The Guardian, Chinese prisoners are forced to play hours upon hours of "World of Warcraft," farming virtual gold that the prison guards can then sell in the real world for nonvirtual cash.
Liu Dali, a former prisoner at the Jixi labor camp in northeast China, told the Guardian that he spent his days breaking rocks and digging trenches and his nights playing video games. That might sound like a decent gig to hardcore gamers who spend hours playing "World of Warcraft" and other massive multiplayer online role playing games, but it wasn't such a pleasant experience for Dali, whose name was changed to protect his identity.
According to Dali, 300 prisoners participated in the virtual chain gang, playing 12-hour shifts: "The computers were never turned off." Prison guards were reportedly able to sell the virtual currency for up to 6,000 yuan a day, which is about $930 -- not a bad sum.
The prisoners, who naturally never saw any of the money, also had quotas to meet. According to Dali, "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."
What the prisoners were doing is called "gold farming"-- killing virtual creatures and completing virtual quests to obtain virtual currency. Because gold farming is a tedious task -- and the virtual currency is needed in order to advance in the game -- millions of gamers around the world are willing to pay real cash for the virtual gold.
Gold farming is rampant in China, and an estimated 80 percent of all gold farmers are Chinese. Because trading virtual currency for real cash is somewhat shady, the Chinese government introduced a directive in 2009 making it illegal for businesses to trade virtual currency unless they had a license. Dali was released from prison before this directive, but he believes that prisoners are still being exploited.
"Many prisons across the northeast of China also forced inmates to play games. It must still be happening," Dali told The Guardian.