Chinese Gold Farmers Documentary

September 13, 2006

Ge Jin, a PhD student at the UCSD Department of Communication, is working on a documentary about “Chinese gold farmers” — MMORPG players who gather treasure and experience in virtual worlds to sell via eBay. A trailer for the video is available online here.

Tietou went from Shanghai to Amherst College in the US to study computer engineering in 1999. However, he felt very alienated in the US and spent most of his days playing online games in his dorm, often trading virtual assets on Ebay. One day in 2002 he suddenly realized that he could use cheap Chinese labor to produce virtual assets, so he quit college and came back to China to establish gold farms. Although he was very successful at the beginning, now his gold farms have collapsed because of the fierce competition in this business… (chinesegoldfarmers.com)

Nick Yee, founder of the Daedalus Project, a major series of surveys and statistics about virtual worlds and online gaming, comments on the video in a Terra Nova post entitled, “Disembodiment, Hypermobility and Labor:”

In watching the video, I am most struck by the intertwined empowerment/disempowerment that is occurring simultaneously for these Chinese workers. Their lives in these virtual worlds are brighter, but yet their interactions with American players (and associated slurs) are a constant reminder of their inferior socio-economic status. The disembodied hypermobility granted by these virtual worlds is, to a certain extent, dispelled when they are labeled as “Chinese gold farmers”. For them, it is a double-edged sword. (Terra Nova)

…to which Ge Jin himself adds a handful of evocative questions:

Is the gold farmer phenomenon a step (probably not the first) in creating productivity out of pleasure? A parallel example is how the military uses immersive games to prepare soldiers for war.

If we get rid of real money trade in the game world, the American gamers will have pure immersion and a level playing field. But many Chinese gamers will lose access to a place that compensate many things they don’t have in real lives, because they depend on real money trade to afford gaming facilities. If we consider the virtual world a public space, can we take into account the issue of “access”? (Terra Nova)

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