Chinese labour camps turned into gold farms

Multi-player games are often the target of so-called 'gold farmers,' but recent revelation suggest the practice is being turned into an unofficial government industry in China - using prisoners as workers.

Hard-labour camps are hardly unique to China, of course: digging trenches, breaking rocks, and carving wood are all commonly used throughout the world to re-educate offenders as to the error of their ways. Claims by ex-prisoners, however, suggest that the process could be going digital.

According to a report in The Guardian, prisoners at the Jixi labour camp in Heilongjiang Province have been forced to play massively multi-player on-line games like the popular World of Warcraft - not as a reward, but in order to generate gold through the 'farming' of in-game items.

An ex-prisoner given the identity of Liu Dali for safety reasons claims that, following the completion of their manual labour tasks each day, prisoners would be herded into a room and made to gather gold for sale to gamers - a conversion process that could earn prison guards more than £500 a day in real-world money.

Lui claims that those who didn't perform adequately at the gold-farming tasks were physically punished with beatings, and that twelve-hour shifts in a room where the computers are never switched off wasn't unusual for the 300-strong gold-farming crew.

Lui, an ex-prison guard who has witnessed life on both sides of the bars, claims that the practice is far from unique to Jixi. "Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games," he told the newspaper, claiming that the practice is almost certainly still ongoing.

Gold farming itself, as Lui's figures show, can be a lucrative endeavour for those willing to put in the time - but it's something that most games frown upon, as it devalues the in-game economy and unbalances the game, allowing players to progress through spending money rather than merit or commitment.