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In China, Online Gamers Raking in the Cash

For a law student, Zhao Mengyuan has a peculiar way of making money -- slaying dragons, killing orcs and saving princesses in distress .

It all takes place in cyberspace, where earning credits for online gamers who are too busy to do it themselves has become a handy source of extra income for the 21-year-old -- and a full-time job for thousands of other Chinese.

Zhao, a third-year student at Beijing's Central University of Finance and Economics, says he much prefers real-life fun such as playing basketball to sitting in front of a computer, but the courts are always too crowded.

"China has too large a population and too limited space for entertainment, that's why computer games are so popular," he says.

So instead of sweating it out on the sports field, Zhao spends 20 to 30 hours a week in World of Warcraft, Lineage and other fantasy universes, which are typically set in ancient empires or occult territories.

He sometimes delves into the massive multi-player online games in his dormitory but more often goes with friends to Internet cafes, and says the only tools needed for the role-play adventures are cigarettes, an ashtray and water.

When he earns extra credits and online commodities, such as online gold and magic potions, he often sells them to other players so they can take a shortcut to virtually enhanced reputations.

"The buyers pay real cash for virtual gold. They have proper jobs but not enough time for games," he said, adding that sometimes the rewards are quite lucrative.

"In just five hours playing one time... I made 2,000 yuan (260 dollars)."

Often the players do not really need the commodities to survive in the online fantasy world, but they want them anyway for bragging rights.

"It's about vanity, just to show off," Zhao said.

The vanity, however, is by no means confined to China.

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