"Chinese Goldfarmers Must Die:" Why China Should Worry About The Growth Of Sinophobia Online

Author:Anant Raut & J. Benjamin Schrader

Introduction What Is Goldfarming? Japan-bashing and the Chinese Exclusion Act Analysis Conclusion


Anant Raut is Counsel to the Committee on the Judiciary for the U.S. House of Representatives. A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Mr. Raut previously worked at the Federal Trade Commission and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.; Ben Schrader is a second-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School and is a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review.
The description of the video read like the script of a snuff film. A group of individuals banded together to ambush and kill a Chinese menial laborer. The reason? The Chinese worker's low-wage labor posed a threat to their economy. The individuals recorded and posted their attack online, where it has been viewed tens of thousands of times. Most shocking, online forums discussing this and similar attacks not only approved of the mob's actions, but also shared tips for waylaying and attacking other Chinese laborers.
No police investigation was ever launched and no charges were ever filed, because the "murder" at issue took place in the virtual world of the online game World of Warcraft (referred to by players as "WoW").1 The victims are Chinese players who collect virtual currency as a reward for performing simple tasks in gameplay and resell the virtual currency for real cash in online exchanges (referred to derisively as "goldfarmers"). Other players, frequently American, saw this as a violation of game ethic with a deflationary impact on their virtual economy. The reaction has been one of anger mixed with (virtual) violence.
The actions by gamers against goldfarmers have been described by some as hate crimes. In this paper, we examine the practice of goldfarming in the context of two historical examples of American backlash against East Asian incursion into the U.S. economy. We conclude with some observations as to how the xenophobia underlying these actions may influence the United States' near-term economic policy towards China.
@What Is Goldfarming?
WoW is the most prominent example of Internet-era video games known as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ("MMORPGs").2 MMORPGs like WoW and EverQuest feature rudimentary economies that revolve around proprietary virtual currencies based on real world precious metals. In both games, a fixed number of copper pieces translates into a fixed number of silver pieces, which in turn translates into a fixed number of gold pieces. By completing certain tasks, a player earns additional currency. And while completing a "quest" (a task or series of tasks which reward the player upon completion with an increase in currency, an increase in his/her character's "level," or both) is considerably more difficult than performing a more mundane task, the game places no limit on how many times a player may complete the same task. The currency obtained from these tasks or quests can then be used in the online environment to purchase a wide variety of items to enhance a player's character,3 and serve as the means by which a player may ultimately participate in the more challenging aspects of the game (such as undertaking more sophisticated quests or battling more powerful foes).4
A player could spend many hours playing WoW to obtain enough currency to purchase a desired upgrade or auxiliary object to advance his or her character. For some players the gratification of such prolonged labor validates that effort. Others see it as an obstacle to their real goal: participation in advanced quests that character advancement affords.5Often these gamers include working professionals who lack the leisure time to invest in such advancement.6 To that end, a number of gamers attempted initially to circumvent the labor- intensive approach by purchasing other players' gold in exchange for real money on auction sites like eBay and Yahoo! Auctions.7When the games' creators persuaded those sites to curtail trading of this online currency, gamers turned to other sites to make these purchases, or to transacting in the gaming environment itself.8

Feeding this demand is a class of players known in the industry as "goldfarmers." Goldfarmers are players whose exclusive purpose is the repetition of mundane tasks in order to resell or trade to other gamers the currency obtained by such performance. These players serve as the springboard to upper levels for those who have neither the time nor the desire to perform such mundane tasks themselves.
Goldfarming has swelled into a well-organized business in China. The business practice was thoroughly described in a June 2007 New York Times Magazine article, but had been examined in-depth as early as 2005.9 The Times profiled a Chinese goldfarmer who spent twelve hours every night of the week (from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.), with only a few nights off per month, performing the same task in World of Warcraft, "[slaying] enemy monks" and gathering "a few dozen vir tual coins" in return.10 According to the Times, the goldfarmer referred to as Li reported the night's haul to his supervisor, and was paid in full at week's end, along with his nine co-workers.11"For every 100 gold coins he gathers, Li makes 10...

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