The reading that struck out to me the most this week was the Chinese Gold Farmers article from the New York Times. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the title alone evokes the historical era of Chinese railroad workers “recruited” during America’s Gold Rush craze. Back then, it was more like modern-day slavery and today, exploitation of services and manual labor clearly takes on a new form.

Quoting the academic article we were required to read by Edward Castronova, it’s extremely relevant that online gaming can carry “an aggregate gross domestic product of anywhere from $7 billion to $12 billion,” a sum that rivals Bolivia, Albania and Nepal! These virtual online industries aren’t just making a supplement to their overall income through the digital medium — it’s their primary source of revenue and more and more companies see the validity in that, such as IBM (even if not for generating more revenue per se).

I’d written about Neopets before and I feel like it’s still relevant in this discussion. I started playing it when I was in fifth grade and everything was catered for a blossoming internet user: the FREE games, the FREE activities, the FREE quests. It wasn’t until a few years later when their Neopoints currency were supplemented by a Neocash currency, which involves buying with real money in order to purchase designer items and special weapons to move faster along in various adventures. But because Neopets doesn’t allow that much player-to-player interaction outside of the occasional messaging, it prevents something like making “it harder for beginning players to get ahead” because there’s no such competition with one another.

SAO ep 2 clip

This is a clip from the anime Sword Art Online (the same one I keep pulling examples from) where Kirito, the main character, fights alongside a group of people encountering their first ever floor-level boss; they must defeat this boss in order to let the rest of humanity stuck in this game move forward and get one step closer to returning back to reality. Everyone cheers after their first victory and Kirito is praised for being the “tank” this mishmosh “guild” needs.

The video is damaged and stops playing after 0:49 but after someone yells out and calls Kirito a “beater” (meaning one of the beta testers who should know the way around this game and technically has a slight advantage over all the other players stuck in this virtual reality — they’re a hated group), everyone turns against him.His ability to stick out is just like how farmers like Min stand out in World of Warcraft, which makes him an easy target. Whether they’re excelling too fast in the game or industriously hoarding resources from the rest, this community looks for any and every excuse to call people out who aren’t playing the game “right.”

To the public’s outcry, Kirito scoffs and embraces his Beater identity. Indeed he knows more than the rest but when lives are at stake, a boy’s gotta do what he has to do. This is no longer a game for him or for anyone else. His talent makes others target him because he’s accrued resources they wished they had. Hence, I’m not surprise there’s this “underground” market for farmers. A gamer’s gotta do what a gamer’s gotta do.