via the excellent ChinaDigitalTimes,
As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.
Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money [“gold-farming”]… The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown…
…A 2007 New York Times article described the gold farming phenomenon in greater depth, including the campaigns of extermination frequently waged on gold farmers by other players. These can have serious real-world consequences for the farmers: in-game death costs time and treasure, leading to missed quotas and firing or, in the case of prisoners like Liu, physical punishment….
…Gold farmers face other dangers. Late last year, Global Voices Online covered the sentencing of a pair of gold-farm owners to six and three-year prison terms. The post includes translated comments from blogger Ruan Yifeng, who argued that the disproportionate harshness of the punishment was imposed for the sake of game developers: … it’ll be far easier for Internet game companies to profit as anyone who dares use a mod can be sent straight to jail! Faced with such roaring profits, who will care about the rights of the little people?
The recursion and automation issues here are subtle.
On the one hand, prisoners are forced to farm for gold. Those who are not in prison may also farm for gold. But if they try to do it efficiently — via “virtual capital” that uses mods to automate user input into the game, they will get sent to prison.
This is so that the software firm can avoid dispensing the electronic credits too quickly.
It’s unclear if, after arriving at prison, the inmates are either forced to use the mods to gold-farm, or prevented from farming with the mods, or — somewhat exquisitely — both forced to use the mods and then punished for doing so.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK3uf5V0pDA]