The Guardian today has an article on gold-farming in China about gold farming in Chinese labour camps, which claims that prisoners in labour camps in China were (are?) forced to play computer games at night after they had spent the day at hard physical labour. The prison then sold the products of their labour to free[1] computer gamers, but of course the camp workers saw none of the profits. If they failed to produce sufficient gold, or slacked off in their virtual world, they were beaten and punished in other ways. The article presents some interesting information about the way gold farming is conducted in labour camps and also in IT sweatshops. The latter represent “voluntary” labour and those doing it seem to think it pays better than factory work (it’s probably safer too), while the former are involuntary work.

These gold farmers in labour camps are being essentially forced to go and work in another world for 7 to 10 hours a day, and beaten if they don’t produce the goods they’re sent there to get. Not only is this process surreal (literally!) but it’s a model of human trafficking, enacted virtually. Are we witnessing the development of an industry based on trafficking in virtual people?

fn1: if you can define WoW players as “free” by the standard definition of the term…