UPDATE: “Let Me Tell You” is a series of fiction pieces about internet villain archetypes, unintended to be interpreted as real. We apologize to new readers who were confused.
You logged on just in time to make it to the raid. You were excited, because based on last night’s attempts, you were confident that your guild would take down Deathwing and plant his jawbone in the middle of Orgrimmar. As you headed to the auction house to buy flasks, something struck you as odd. You were naked. Perplexed, you opened the character screen and saw that, were it not for your guild tabard, your rotting Forsaken private bits would be on display for the whole world. Of Warcraft.
A little more frantic now, you opened your bags. Empty, save for a few stacks of teleportation runes. You blinked to the bank, where your worst fears were confirmed: you were hacked. Your guild might be taking down Deathwing, but they were going to do it without you. Naked mage DPS is slightly worse than even arms warrior DPS. You would have to suffer the indignity of being benched for the night while your comrades gathered to take down the terror of Azeroth. Staring blankly at the computer screen, lost in the despair of losing your raid spot, you wished a thousand and one deaths on whomever was evil enough to do such a thing to you.
Jiang was the eldest son of a peasant family in southern China. He was five years old when his father, Liu, died in a smelting accident in what could only loosely be described as their garden. Jiang became the man of the house at the same age most western children are entering middle school. He smelted steel, he worked the fields, and when local industry dried up, he went out in search of employment.
Until recently, Jiang was one of the “black people”, rural peasants who migrate to the cities for work. He wasn’t legally permitted to do so, but he was one of the many millions who managed to find low-paid manual labor by day in China’s urban areas, despite the fierce anti-rural sentiments in the cities. Unlike many in his situation, Liang didn’t drink or gamble or patronize prostitutes. Nearly every Yuan he made was sent home to support his mother, wife, and two children.
Jiang’s family wasn’t always poor. He had ancestral lands, and his grandfather was a small but respected landlord in the province. By the standards of the early 20th century, Jiang’s family was moderately wealthy. The village was prosperous, the land was fertile and the trade market flourished, as it had for generations. When Mao’s people came in 1952 with the Party’s land reform and the Great Leap Forward, Jiang’s grandfather openly opposed the changes. He was executed by the Party, and the family land was seized by the state. Jiang’s father moved the family into a small hut at the outskirts of the village where they remain today.
The collectivization of agriculture and the steel production quotas quickly turned the village from prosperous to poor. The land that had been so giving for so long was being destroyed by heavy machinery and backyard steel mills. Villagers caught diseases from the pollution that took over their once-pristine air and water. Things began to get better after Mao, but all ships didn’t rise with the tide. The poor and the prosperous grew apart at a rate rivaling the expansion of the universe. Jiang’s village was a have-not. After the Reunification, Jiang joined many of his kind and migrated to Hong Kong, taking any job he could to support his family.
In February of 2002, Jiang went to a cybercafe to check his email. His hovel didn’t have electricity, let alone internet access, but once a month he splurged for 15 minutes of connectivity to exchange emails with his niece, who was going to school in America on a scholarship. He was just about to sit at a terminal when he noticed Wei, an old friend from his village across the room. The two men spoke as Wei continued to play EverQuest. Wei was a worker bee in a consortium that “farmed” platinum, the virtual currency of the EverQuest MMO. He spent upwards of eighteen hours a day using pixels to slay pixels and loot the rotting pixel corpses for gold and platinum pixels that his bosses would sell to American gamers for actual physical money.
Hour for hour, the pay was slightly less than what Wei could make on a construction site, but he was indoors, in a clean, air-conditioned room. He got unlimited cold water and one free meal per shift and the threat of carpal-tunnel syndrome wasn’t scary stacked up with the things that happen to the industrial workers. He explained to Jiang that if he exceeded his quota he was eligible for bonus compensation. He took Jiang to see the supervisor and within a few hours, Jiang was venturing deep into the Everfrost Peaks to shoot fireballs at snow orcs.
Jiang quickly became known for his uncanny ability to sniff out the best and most efficient platinum-farming patterns, and he consistently hit his quotas with ample time remaining to study the inner workings of MMORPGs. It wasn’t long before he was writing simple scripts to automate his gameplay, which allowed him to run multiple accounts at once. When he started to regularly outproduce his peers by 400% in a single shift, his supervisors took notice.
Jiang transitioned to gold farming in World of Warcraft in 2005 and quickly realized that the easiest way to conduct business and “launder” gold effectively was to look and act like a real player. He formed a guild with his coworkers and let them into raids. Because raiding was their job they were able to efficiently put a team together and conquer even the toughest content. This in turn afforded them the ability to accumulate rare and valuable virtual items with ease, which they could then sell to other players via the in-game auction house. This method of getting gold to sell was so effective that soon Jiang was setting up raid guilds on every realm and training other employees to defeat the encounters.
Jiang had the idea to try using the login information provided by people for the gold-buying website to log into World of Warcraft. He was just as surprised as his bosses at how well that worked. Despite years of warnings from Blizzard about buying gold from third parties, despite the common sense born of the internet age that you don’t use the same login credentials in more than one place, nearly 80% of the people who had purchased gold through their website used the same login there as they did for WoW. List in hand, Jiang went to work.
In under five minutes Jiang could clear your account. He had a knack for assessing what was and wasn’t valuable. He knew whether it would be more profitable to sell items to the vendor or disenchant them and sell the raw materials. On average he could pull 200,000 gold from a single account, and he had a list of more than a hundred thousand. He smashed his quotas every day cleaning out accounts of people like you who, rather than play the game as intended, took the shortcut of buying gold from China.
Jiang was always mindful of the things your characters possessed which might be sentimentally valuable to you, however. He took your Tier 12 set and sold it all to the blacksmith in Orgrimmar, but he left you your Staff of Atiesh, which he knew had been removed from the game at the launch of the Burning Crusade and could never be obtained again. He had grown to be every bit a fan of the game as the millions of legitimate players were, and he knew what was and wasn’t important to an adventurer in Azeroth. Your raid armor could be replaced in a little more than a week, but the things that you worked hard for were left for you to cherish for as long as you subscribed to the game.
You didn’t appreciate that sentiment, though. You only saw your empty character sheet and your raid spot filled by your understudy and you flew into a nerd rage. You contacted a Game Master, like most other people who get hacked, but you included a bit of information that nobody else ever dared to. Out of sheer spite for the man that did this to you, you gave Blizzard all of the information you had on the site from which you purchased your gold. The information made its way to the legal department who was able to get the website taken down. You were of course banned from the game for admitting you cheated, but you didn’t care. You had been planning to quit soon anyway, and when you tried to browse to the gold site a few days later you clenched your fist in triumph that there was nothing but a DMCA notice at the address.
When Jiang’s company shut down he was forced back to the streets of Hong Kong to find whatever work he could. After almost ten years of doing what amounted to office work, Jiang no longer had the appearance of a laborer. He was evicted from his quarters above the cybercafe when new ownership took over and had to once again take up residence in the slums of the industrial district. On the night he moved in to his new room he was accosted by a group of drunken men who mistook him for a middle class office worker. He didn’t have any money to give them, so they beat him severely, took his clothes, and left him to die by the side of the road. The police investigated, but as they expected, didn’t find anything. They released his body to Wei, who took Jiang home to be buried next to his father and grandfather on the small plot of land that the Party had allowed them to keep for their own.