On WFPL this morning (my local NPR radio news station) they ran a story on Chinese gold farmers operating in the virtual world of online games. The "job" of these farmers is to play the games, collect in-game gold, and then sell the gold to other players in exchange for real money. Selling in-game gold for real money is a direct violation of the rules for most online games and will get your account banned.
The story as presented on the radio was, to put it bluntly, biased and misleading. You can listen to it and decide for yourself, but here are some of the things said in the story that are either false or misleading:
- There is no such thing as online murder. In general, killing another player just means that the dead player has to reincarnate in a different area. In many games, you can't kill another player unless that player agrees to participate in the battle. There is no such thing as a massacre, at least not in the permanent real life consequences sense of the word. All the speech to the contrary in the story is just hyperbole.
- In general, gold is not used to buy "special powers." It is used to buy better equipment that may or may not have special attributes.
- In an interview, an investment banker says gold farming is a job like making shoes. Nike shoes are a legal product. Gold faming is like making Nike shoe knock-offs and selling them as if they were really Nike shoes. An illegal activity is not a job - it is a criminal exercise. In the context of an online game, gold farming is an illegal activity.
- Game players are not anti-Chinese trade and they certainly don't think the Chinese gold farmers are stealing jobs from Americans - the very idea is ludicrous. People playing online games are anti-gold-farmer because the extra gold causes inflation in game. The gold farmers could be operating out of Iowa and the sentiment would be the same.
I know mainstream media has a difficult time understanding electronic gaming, but the bias and total lack of understanding revealed in this radio story is particular disturbing. If, as a journalist, you are going to make assumptions about one group based on the accusations of another group, you are required to get both sides of the story. No attempt was made to do that as far as I can tell and instead we are presented with a biased one-sided report. I am very disappointed in NPR.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.