In China, videogames aren't just a pastime, they're a lucrative punishment.
A Chinese man going by the pseudonym Liu Dali was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" it to end the rampant corruption in his hometown. He was sentenced to 3 years at the Jixi labor camp, where he worked in a coal mine, carved chopsticks, dug ditches, and memorized communist propaganda from dawn until dusk. And when the sun went down, he was set down in front of a computer and forced to play videogames.
In addition to forcing inmates to preform tough manual labor, the prison had discovered the lucrative business of gold farming, where a player (or sometimes automated bot) does the same actions over and over again in an MMO, with the intention to sell the gold earned to unscrupulous players. It's a big business in China, earning nearly $2 billion in 2008, and the prison bosses wanted in on a piece of the action.
"There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp," said Dali. "We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off." He claimed to have heard the guards mention that the operation could pull in nearly $1000 on a good day. And while being forced to farm MMO gold for 12 hours after a long day mining coal certainly doesn't sound fun, the true unpleasantness of the situation didn't rear its head until someone fell behind on their gold quota for the day.
"If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," said Dali.
In 2009, the Chinese government imposed regulations on gold farming businesses, so the practice of enslaving inmates to kill Lord Grafnul the Demon King for the thousandth time may have come to an end, but Dali (who was released before the law was put into effect) doesn't think so. "Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games. It must still be happening."
It's a sad situation, but also sort of funny in a gallows-humor, surreal, macabre way. I've heard playing some games referred to as a 'torturous experience' before, but this has to be the most literal example of that phrase yet seen.