I saved the best (well maybe most interesting) photo post for last. The whole reason I was in China was to shoot for the feature doc "Play Money." Play Money explores the complex world of virtual property, the business of real money trade, and the question that blurs the line between the virtual and the real. Pretty much the film is about the multimillion dollar real money trade industry that surrounds video games such as War of Warcraft. There are many different ways that companies make real money from video games. One way is through what is called "Power Leveling." Power Leveling is when a game player (most often a westerner) wants to advance his character to a higher level in the game. If they do not have the time to play the game themselves, then they can pay someone else (most often a worker in China) to play the game for them. The transaction often goes through a larger company that then outsources the work to a smaller "studio' or "gold farm."
The photos below are from a "power leveling gold farm" in rural Beijing (about an hour and a half outside the city). The ironic thing is that this "gold farm" is in fact an actual working farm. The youngest member of the family Liang runs the power leveling company, while his parents run the farm.
They have 15+ nice PCs with flat screen monitors and high speed internet, yet no plumping. The "gold farm" employes about 20 workers who live on the farm. They work in shifts playing World of Warcraft nearly 24/7. Most of the workers are uneducated whose other options would be to work in a factory or a manual labor job. They earn about $300 a month, which sounds incredibly low to westerners, but it is on par with what most non-college educated workers earn.
When I signed on to shoot this film, I had no idea what to expect. I was assuming we would be shooting in visually boring office buildings.... I was pleasantly surprised at this location. This "Gold Farm" is really going to be an amazing section of the film. Below is a small edit of some photos I shot the first day while scouting the location. I'll be putting up a bigger edit in my Stills section shortly.
The Gold Farm / Real Farm.
This is the main computer room.
Like any business or office, a clock hangs on the front wall.
Most workers are in their 20s and are hardcore gamers themselves.
Boxing and cards are two ways the workers spend time when not playing video games. A large boxing bag hangs in the middle of the yard.
The workers outside a the main building.
Liang, 25. The Boss.
Liang works from another room with a view into the main computer room. Liang takes his employees out to a KTV or a nice dinner once a month as a way to get a break from the farm. They often make the hour+ drive into Beijing.
A wedding photo of his grandmother hangs by Liang's computer.
Yuan, Liang's wife in their bedroom. In addition to household chores, she also assist Liang with any business related task he needs help with. She is also a avid gamer herself.
Liang's mother returns from the fields. She picks fresh veggies daily and cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family and all the workers.
In a room adjacent to the computer building, Liang's mother prepares lunch. They often cook lunch over a large open wok outside.
Zhendua, 90. Liang's grandfather. The past two generations of Liang's family worked the farm. He works the virtual markets.
Another shot of Zhendua.
Workers at work.
With 15+ computer, the hot Beijing summer heat and no AC, the workers use multiple fans to try and stay cool.
To find out more about the film Play Money and the world of real money trade and virtual economies, check out www.playmoneyfilm.com