Early last year a small Southern California company called Black Snow Interactive made a business move you could almost call shrewd if it weren’t so surreal. They rented office space in Tijuana, equipped it with eight PCs and a T1 line, and hired three shifts of unskilled Mexican laborers to do what most employers would have fired them for: playing online computer games from punch-in to quitting time. The games they were required to play were Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot, two of the most popular massively multiplayer role-playing games online. As the workers sat mouse-clicking virtual trolls to death, their characters acquired skills and gold at a brisk, assembly-line pace. For this, Black Snow paid the Mexicans piecework wages -- then turned around and sold the high-level characters and make-believe money on eBay, where a grandmaster dragon-tamer account from Ultima can fetch $200 and a Dark Age gold piece trades for roughly what the Russian ruble does.
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