Gold In Perpetration

The Guardian, a fairly reputable United Kingdom newspaper, came out with a story about Chinese prisoners forced in to gold farming for MMOs. There are questions about the truth of the matter since it appears that this is coming from one ex-prisoner whose incarceration was from “illegal petitioning” of the government, but even if true, I am not sure anything new was really learned.

(1) The Chinese government uses prison labor, or laogai (“reform through labor”) as a lucrative means. It’s pretty rough in comparison to U.S. and E.U. prisons that have prison labor systems. Check.

(2) Chinese factory labor, regardless of whether it is used to create virtual gold or real-world jeans, is usually pretty rough in comparison to U.S. and E.U labor standards. Check.

(3) Buying virtual currency on a gray-to-black market fosters negative secondary effects such as viruses, account stealing, and, in this case, use of any “inhumane” labor. Check.

Wrapping up all three things together in one story really doesn’t change much does it? I guess the one thing this story could be used against is the argument that the consumer is altruistically supporting the life of a poorer human by buying virtual gold. I haven’t seen this one used yet, but I guess I now have this response in my pocket.


EDIT: Here’s a video version for those interested. It pulls from many journalistic sources, rather than just The Guardian.

18 thoughts on “Gold In Perpetration”

  1. Thanks for highlighting this article, its an interesting take on how the gold is generated and another argument to use against those who would encourage purchases.

  2. I’m glad someone in the Blogosphere picked this one up…

    The real message that all Online Players/Developers need to bore into their skulls is that this IS BIG BUSINESS in certain areas of the world.

    And BIG BUSINESS in certain places ALWAYS has state sponsorship.

    This is the smallest of public indicators that there is more going on in virtual online spaces than “just a few hackers / gold sellers making a few bucks”.

    1. Once China started making laws on virtual currency I think the message of “big business” was pretty clear.

  3. This means that gold-buyers are Communist sympathizers. Except without the Communist part because China isn’t so much Communist as Big Brotherist.

    1. But of all the things to hold against the Chinese government…gold farming in MMOs?

      I realize this is an MMO blog, but I just can’t care at all about this compared to the gross and backwards social injustices that occur there daily.

      When people are imprisoned for speaking out against the government for example, and as Klep says basically instituted a Big Brother state….gold in MMOs is so ridiculously trivial.

  4. I’d say The Guardian was the U.K.’s most reputable daily paper, not just “fairly reputable”.

    I read the article in the paper on my lunch break and was hoping to shoe-horn a link to it into a comment on one of the blogs I read, but that turns out to be entirely unnecessary since it’s been reported here, on Terra Nova and on Massively already.

    I got the impression from the article that the gold-farming was something of an entrepreneurial exercise by the prison guards, rather than something officially organized by the state. It’s also interesting that the article mentions this practice being common in the North of China specifically, which also suggests it may be a scheme proper to a particular sub-authority rather than something that has full state approval. I seem to have heard before that Chinese central authorities fairly regularly have to crack down on these kind of local initiatives, so it might be instructive to watch what happens as a result of this international publicity.

    The sooner Western MMO designers drop tradeable currencies from their games completely, the better. I’d be entirely happy to go without the supposed attractions of an in-game economy if it meant a complete stop to goldfarming.

    1. Personally I really don’t know, but does gold-farming actually impact your game in any way?

      Other than other players paying real earned dollars to save themselves time in meaningless exercises to generate in-game currency, which some find evokes feelings of jealousy.

      1. It tends to mean that items in the local bazaar/auction house cost more gold. How much more can lock quite a few players out of the player economy…

      2. I’m no fan of economies in MMOs to begin with, so the removal of goldfarmers would actually be the pleasant side-effect of a change I’d very much like to see for gameplay reasons.

        The freeing-up of the vast amount of customer service time and of money that could otherwise be spent on the game itself would, of course, be another very attractive byproduct, as would the distancing of the games I play from organized (and disorganized) crime.

        If the games developers themselves wanted to sell in-game currency so that players could buy their way to success, that I have no problem with.

        1. Personally, I’m vehemently opposed to any sort of “pay to win” in MMOs in general.

          If your personal life is so “successful” that you have plenty of money to throw away, but not enough time to actually enjoy playing a game, then you either need to re-examine your concept of “successful” or content yourself with the knowledge that you’re “winning” the RL game, and accept that losers with too much time on their hands will have a very slight advantage in the OL game.

          “Pay to win” is an immediate, and thoroughly complete failure on any game’s part. Although I have no affection for gold sellers whatsoever (never used one – never will… it’s absurd to me to pay someone else to play a game for you.) I find “pay to win” a thousand times more repulsive than gold sellers.

  5. Was really surprised you didn’t take this to its logical conclusion:

    It is no worse to purchase gold for MMOs on secondary market and quite possibly forced gold farmers than it is to purchase any of countless consumer items produced in such ways.

    In fact, labor *outside* prisons is pretty awful in China and the distinction isn’t really that big between it and forced prison labor. Its shitty poorly paid work and terrible conditions.

    Does that stop me from buying the $200 shoes made there for 50 cents? Nope.

    And if I had any inclination to buy gold I honestly could care less whether its from the company, gold farmers, prison workers, whatever.

    I pretty much decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to try and fight a one-man war for civil rights in countries around the world through voting with my wallet and forgoing purchases.

    I buy what I want for what I want. 99% of us do. Making a distinction from buying MMO gold and everything else produced in precisely the same conditions…is insane and highly self-deceptive.

    1. I thought of it, but didn’t want to muddy the waters by attacking “the American way [of cheap consumption].” I felt linking that documentary was probably good enough for this article. :)

      I do appreciate your comment though.

      1. I was nearly sure you must have at least pondered it as it seemed to fit so nicely, but I can certainly understand why you didn’t include it for that reason.

    2. Not to be all polemic and shiz, but technically you are fighting in that civil rights war, just for the other side. ;p (if you go ahead and practice the shopping habits you claim to).

      1. Haha, yes I suppose so. If by “war” you mean…the status quo that is not going to change any time soon. The battle has been fought and the war won if you ask me, :P

        I honestly would *like* if all places in the world had the way of life we do, civil rights, etc. But firstly there is a lot worse shit going on than Chinese factory workers…despite how bad that is. Secondly, currently I am not in a position to personally change these things, and dressing in clothes I don’t like won’t help at all, will it?

        There is also the fact that a great number of self-proclaimed civil rights warriors claiming to only buy non-child labor/etc. products are pretty clear hypocrites or just can’t afford the clothes they claim to be against.

        At least I’m not ashamed of it though ;)

  6. What I really noticed in the article was that the man was jailed for “illegally petitioning the government”, which is explained as complaining about corrupt officials in his hometown.

    1. Yes…in my opinion thats a lot more compelling, if less relevant on an MMO site.

  7. Seen it before actually, I think they should be given the choice. Personally I think most would choose the gaming, manual labor seems so much more physically demanding. I think they are lucky to be able to have the opportunity in the first place. Although it might go from enjoyment to a chore quickly.

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