Corruption, incompetence and sanctions have devastated Venezuela’s oil industry, the country’s main source of hard currency. But Venezuela’s economic crisis has encouraged the growth of another: the “farming” of virtual coins in the artificial worlds created by video games. Venezuelans spend hours on end playing massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (mmorpgs) to extract gold coins (the currency in RuneScape) or crystal ones (Tibia). They sell these for real money, via intermediary websites, to other gamers, who spend them on such virtual valuables as weapons, armour and magic potions.
Venezuelans playing RuneScape can earn 500,000-2m gold pieces an hour by mass-murdering dragons and mass-producing runes. At current exchange rates 1m coins are worth about 50 cents. A gold farmer can earn $40 a month, a tidy sum in a country where the minimum wage is worth $7.50 a month. Some farmers trade the coins for Bitcoin, which, though more volatile than most conventional currencies, is more stable than Venezuela’s bolívar. (The mining of real gold, some of it illegal, is another source of income for desperate Venezuelans.)