I’ve been bummed that I have to work with a painful autoimmune-vision condition, one that would resolve much faster if I didn’t have to stare at teeny-tiny text in fine detail all day. Woe is me! Then I see this piece below, which helps put things in perspective:
(Guardian UK) — As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells. Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.
In the virtual worlds inhabited by millions of people there is often an economy running on virtual money. Much like the real world, the more virtual currency you have the more cool virtual stuff you can buy, your status goes up, and gosh darn it, people just like you! For big communities like World of Warcraft or Second Life, the demand for virtual money is big enough that there’s a secondary black-market for it. Think of a conversation rate, N number of real dollars gets you X numbers of fakes ones.
The problem, for anyone wishing to sell the fake money and collect some real shekels, is that that fake currency is controlled by the gaming/community developer. That’s where our reluctant work camp hackers come in. Using a variety of tricks they gain access to legitimate accounts, grab whatever virtual currency they can off those nom de nets, and sell any high value items for rock bottom virtual prices on sort of virtual eBay exchange to other players. The latter is so ubiquitous in some games that there are entire communities of legit players devoted to watching these exchanges, constantly looking for low ball deals on highly valued items that they can flip for a virtual profit.
Technically, one would think this is theft. But in some countries taking virtual money or virtual items is not a crime — in fact it may not be a crime here in the US, or at least not much of one compared to breaking into a real house and grabbing real stuff. So the online hacking centers can operate somewhat freely in developed nations, with all the technology and other infrastructure benefits that come with it, at least compared to full-blown identity theft rings or phishing scams that mostly operate in lawless or incredibly corrupt regions of the world.
Incidentally, if you happen to be a member of one of these communities, and are tempted to buy some virtual currency, I have some advise for you: don’t. One of the main ways they gain access to your account is by grabbing info from you or installing a stealthy key logger on your PC when you set up an account to buy the fake stuff. Today’s virtual currency buyer is tomorrow’s hacking victim.
This is all stuff I work indirectly with on a regular basis, the job that’s currently causing my eyeballs to burn and water, but which also provides the health insurance critical to my treating that very condition, without which I would slowly go blind and become crippled. But an article like that really brings it home for me. As someone who plays video games and wanders the virtual landscape of the cyber world day and night, I occasionally come into contact with and once in a blue moon literally do battle, so to speak, with some of these hackers. But whenever I hear about their real plight in life, it makes me sad for them, and I’m ashamed to say, a little bit happier for me.