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Report: Chinese prisoners forced to play online games for guards

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World of Warcraft - Blizzard Entertainment

When U.S. prisoners journey beyond their prison walls, it's usually because they've been assigned to a roadside cleanup crew. In China, they head to World of Warcraft.

In addition to the physical labor he was required to perform during the day, a former inmate at the Jixi labour camp in northeast China is alleging he -- and 300 fellow prisoners -- were forced to play online games at night, raising credits and finding loot that prison guards then resold for real-world money, reports The Guardian.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labor," said the 54 year-old Liu Dali (a name changed to keep him anonymous), a former guard-turned prisoner."There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000 rmb [$770-$924] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

While playing online games might sound like a fun way to make prison time pass quicker -- even if someone else reaps the financial rewards -- the former prisoner who spoke to the Guardian say it was anything but.

He was required to play after a backbreaking day's work that included smashing rocks in a coal mine and hand carving chopsticks and toothpicks. And if he failed to meet his quota in the online game, he says, he was punished physically, sometimes being beaten with plastic pipes.

The act of incessantly grinding tasks in an online game simply to acquire tradable funds - colloquially called 'gold farming' - is a very real problem in MMOs, and China is often pointed to as the capital of the practice. The country reportedly traded more than $2 billion worth of virtual currency in 2008 and the number is on the rise. Over 100,000 full-time gold farmers are thought to be based in China.

While technically banned in most games, gold farming has survived and thrived, mainly due to players who don't have (or want to spend) the necessary free time to acquire the loot. Because it generally takes place outside of the game universe, publishers haven't had much luck shutting down the operations.

And with over 11 million subscribers playing WoW - and millions more playing other MMOs - there's always an audience looking for a shortcut.

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