The Gold Game: Farming Virtual Money to Fight a Real-Life Crisis

Venezuelans desperate for hard currency realized Runescape runs on fake money —with more purchasing power than the bolivar. This is how the crisis reached the pixels.

The more distorted Venezuela’s economy gets, the weirder the arbitrage options are. As real opportunities dwindle, fantasy opportunities start to look better. Some desperate Venezuelans are now taking to Old School Runescape, a retro-themed Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), whose fake currency is worth pretty good money, if your real currency is fake enough.

The trick is that MMORPGs can get pretty repetitive. You start off by killing some lame monsters, do it ninety more times and you get some game money for weapons and armor that will allow you to fight some bigger, less-lame monsters. These monsters give better rewards, so after a while you feel like you’re making progress, which is the fun part. Slowly, you explore vast lands, alone or with friends, while growing stronger.

The process is supposed to be slow, the worlds inside these videogames can be so massive that it can take years to explore them.

The gold you get isnt taken out of any fund, its created the moment the monster is killed. Merentes-style.

Naturally, some players dont want to spend years before they slay the king of dragons, so a real market emerges for the fake in-game currency, catering to first world chamos with a bit of disposable pocket money.

Thats where Venezuelan gold farmers (thats the actual term) come in. In Runescape, there are whole areas crowded with Venezuelans killing the same lame green dragons over and over again. Why? Do the math. You can earn about $0,50 an hour with this. That’s Bs.12,000 on the black market, five times the minimum wage of Bs.2,400 an hour.

Gold farming isnt new – Chinese players have been going at it since at least 2005. It’s against the games rules and is not well received by other gamers; Milton Friedman would have told you why: gold farming inflates Runescape’s money supply causing virtual inflation.

Some players don’t want to spend years before they slay the king of dragons, so a real market emerges for the fake in-game currency.

Every time you kill a monster, it drops gold, but then the monster reappears, and you can kill it as many times as you want. The gold you get isnt taken out of any fund, its created the moment the monster is killed. Merentes-style.

The economies of these MMORPGs aren’t well thought out. Gold farmers create money and transfer it to the new players that spend it in a second, driving the prices up. So yeah, Venezuelans are shielding themselves from real-world inflation by creating inflation in a virtual world.

I first found out about this trend on Runescape by a reddit post, a joke guide (I think) on how to kill Venezuelan gold farmers. The guide recommends what weapons to use, along with suggested insults in Spanish.

The guide wasnt well received and was taken down, as it turned into a xenophobia festival, with players commenting on the infestation of Venezuelans, mocking the crisis the country is living.

Dont read too much into that, thats not the real story; 12-year-old MMORPG players are hateful pricks by nature.

The word infestation” however, while hateful, does give you an idea of how many Venezuelans are prowling the game. I tried to interview some of them and I downloaded the game to see if I could get to the farming part, as some kind of virtual journalist, but I got obliterated by monsters in a blink. That part of the realm is meant for more advanced players.

In I earn money killing dragons, a 20-year old graphic designer, who has a daughter, says he spends 3-hours a day farming in Runescape to make ends meet.

Take a look at the comment section, with Venezuelan farmers pissed at the guy for talking to the press. They apparently think that now that their way of life is out there”, it will get too popular and Jagex, the publishers of Runescape, will do something to stop it.

They’re probably right. The story about Venezuelan Runescape has gotten really big, already featured in major videogame sites, and it looks like it won’t stop growing any time soon.

Because this gold that buys digital items for anyone, can buy real bread in the Revolution.

Carlos Hernández

Ciudad Guayana economist moonlighting as the keyboardist of a progressive power metal band. Carlos knows how to play Truco. 4 8 15 16 23 42