Although now 5 years old, a December 26th, 2007 article (translated into English and republished on danwei.org) about the culture - and dark side - of online gaming in China is well-worth reading.
The original article concerns ZT Online, a Chinese massively multiplayer online role playing game ("RPG") that encourages players to fight wars and gamble.
The addictive nature of ZT Online's violent and stratified culture - where revenge-fantasies are encouraged and status depends on how much real cash players spend to arm themselves for cyber-battles fought in Internet Cafes - is seen through the eyes of one 27-year-old sonogram technician, Lu Yang, who eventually soured on the game after she earned a coveted role as a "Queen" in ZT Online's magical realm.
The power of online games to stimulate powerful human feelings - while extracting millions from committed players - is a topic that blogger Cao Yunwu obviously feels is troubling: "In China's hottest online game right now, players encounter a "system" that executes a seductive control. Though unseen, this "system" is omnipresent. It['s] a virtual yet real monopolist."
Recently the Chinese gaming website game.people.com wrote about a Chinese father who had hired in-game hitmen to deter his son from playing video games. Annoyed that his 23 year old son had left a job at a software development company to spend his days playing online RPGs, Mr. Feng (冯先生) reportedly commissioned online assassins - hoping that his son would quit playing video games if he was killed every time he logged on.
There are even unproven sensational claims that prisoners in China were at one time exploited for the potential to earn real money through online gaming: "Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu [Dali, allegedly a former prisoner at the Jixi labour camp] told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."
It is well-known that China - in the face of the popularity of online games and to stem potential abuses - has regulated the trade and use of virtual money.
As described in a post to cobico.com, ZT Online is part of a world of online games, that "declare themselves as “free to play”, even though you eventually find out in the end, that without spending additional money, the game keeps you at the status of an expandable decorative extra for the premium members around you."
Thanks to Julian Perez for the link.