"The trading of virtual currencies in multiplayer games has become so rampant in China that it is increasingly difficult to regulate. In April, the Sichuan provincial government in central China launched a court case against a gamer who stole credits online worth about 3000rmb.Prisoners? That's right, prisoners. Apparently immates of re-education camps are forced to play World of Warcraft to farm gold.
"The lack of regulations has meant that even prisoners can be exploited in this virtual world for profit.
"According to figures from the China Internet Centre, nearly £1.2bn of make- believe currencies were traded in China in 2008 and the number of gamers who play to earn and trade credits are on the rise.
"It is estimated that 80% of all gold farmers are in China and with the largest internet population in the world there are thought to be 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country.
"In 2009 the central government issued a directive defining how fictional currencies could be traded, making it illegal for businesses without licences to trade. But Liu, who was released from prison before 2009 believes that the practice of prisoners being forced to earn online currency in multiplayer games is still widespread."
"'Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. 'There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.'So if anyone tries to tell you that buying in-game currency through an illegal RMT site does not hurt anyone, try to remember this story. Whether you buy gold, plat, isk or gil, the way it was gathered may be collected in a way that harms others, whether it be through hacking or, as I just learned, forced labor.
Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.
But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.
"'If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,' he said."