Thursday, November 23, 2006

Play as Work: Chinese Gold Farmers

We hear a lot about Chinese Gold Farmers in MMOGs, but it's oftentimes hard to picture exactly what this emerging form of labour would look like. Is it fun? Exploitative? Co-operative? I happened upon this project-in-progress through YouTube, where you can catch previews of burgeoning filmmaker Ge Jin a.k.a. Jingle's new documentary Chinese Gold Farmers. Here's an excerpt from the synopsis on the film's website:

Multiplayer online games have given rise to a virtual economy, in which all kinds of virtual assets from in-game currency, magic shield to whole characters are traded against real world currency. In China, there are tens of thousands of gaming sweatshops that hire people to play games like World of Warcraft and Lineage. The gaming workers kill monsters and loot treasures for 10-12 hours a day to produce virtual assets that are exported all over the world. They are called Chinese gold farmers by western gamers and many myths about them are circulated in the game universe.

This documentary leads you into several different Chinese gold farms. Who opened those gold farms? How did this industry emerge? What international connections do the gold farm owners have? How do they manage the virtual transactions? Who are these gaming workers? What is it like to play games for a living? Why don't they do something else? You will hear several gold farmers tell their own stories and see their everyday struggles to live at the border of the virtual and the real.

Sounds awesome. Here's the link to the director's vlog on YouTube, where you can watch previews of the film.

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