Chain gangThe Guardian is reporting that prisoners in labor camps in China were forced to play online games like World of Warcraft in 12 hour shifts in order to earn virtual credits, currencies and goods which could then be sold by the guards. Prisoners who did not meet their quotas were beaten.

The practice of “gold farming”, building up credits and other value in various online games which can then be sold, is widespread in China. The Guardian says there are up to 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country, some of which work in the digital version of sweatshops.

Online and social games are booming and earning or buying virtual goods and credits are an integral part of many games. The virtual goods business in the U.S. was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion in 2010, according to Inside Network and 91 gaming companies raised $1.05 billion in that year.

This story shines a light on the issue of where our gadgets, or in this case gaming shortcuts, actually come from. From the suicides and explosion at the Foxconn factory producing Apple devices to sweatshops and prison labour for gold farming, maybe it’s time that tech lovers became more responsible about the cost of their digital fun. Games should be fun for everyone, not played at someone else’s expense.