A Million Coins | Translation

A Million Coins | Translation


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Translated by MC Editorial

[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

This story happened at the same time in two different worlds. Worlds inhabited by people like these:

[Yoryelin Ravelo]: My name is Yoryelin Ravelo. I am 29 years old.

[Humberto Bogarín]: My name is Humberto Bogarín. I am 29 years old.

[Daniel]: In one world, Yoryelin and Humberto were a young couple with a one-year-old daughter. In 2018, they were studying Education at a university in Venezuela and could not find a job that paid them enough to support their family in the middle of a serious economic crisis that had been going on for years.

But in the other world, Yoryelin was called Artemis, and Humberto was Prometheus. 

[Yoryelin]: My husband and I, uhm, our characters were archers.

[Humberto]: We were warriors because we fought against dragons, we fought against shamans. Our job was to fight.

[Daniel]: Fighting in a world that, at first glance, was medieval.

In the world of RuneScape or, as some call it, Ronscape or Runescape, a computer video game created in 2001, in which each player chooses a role or character, makes alliances and faces other players online. It is a fantasy place inhabited by all kinds of beings. Giants, dragons, fairies, monsters, and also humans, like Yoryelin and Humberto’s characters. And they were there because playing RuneScape had become their full-time job.

It was Humberto’s nephew who taught them how they could earn money playing.

[Yoryelin]: He spent about three days here explaining everything about the game, how he did it, from starting to create an account. Every single thing, how to handle it, and he gave us a guide page, a YouTube channel.

[Archive soundbite]

[Hugodzilla]: Hello, how are you, bros? How are you? Welcome to a new video. I am Hugodzilla. And I’m going to teach you how to play Old School RuneScape from scratch.

[Daniel]: Old School RuneScape, a 2013 version of the game, which was made to look, as its name suggests, old school, retro, like some previous versions. The animations are very similar to what we saw in other video games from the early 2000s. Characters that seem to be made of colored blocks, flat and without details. And that is the version that began to be used in Venezuela around 2015. By that year, the country had the slowest Internet in all Latin America, and Old School RuneScape doesn’t need much bandwidth.

In RuneScape, players explore new terrain, improve their skills—like running faster, aiming better—or complete quests like fighting monsters and giants or repairing a tower clock, all of which can earn them special items or gold coins, which are then used to buy objects in the game: weapons, armor. And it was these coins that motivated the couple to get into RuneScape, because the coins had begun to be sold on the Internet in 2015. It is tedious to get them by playing. You manage to collect only a few in each mission, so it is easier and faster to buy them outside the game using real money. That’s how Yoryelin and Humberto’s real job became selling what they got to players from other countries via the Internet.

They did this because, as Venezuela’s economic crisis got worse and worse, they could earn up to four times more every month than they could have earned in other jobs.

[Yoryelin]: When we started, we made about 20 dollars a week. I mean, think about it—that was money, because people were getting paid 20 a month.

[Daniel]: In full-time jobs like selling clothes in a store, for example.

[Humberto]: And imagine that—we made three, four times that much with the game, and we were not rich. We lived day to day, we had needs, we had instability, but hey, we weren’t going hungry, and we owe that to RuneScape.

[Daniel]: RuneScape would become an important part, not only of the lives of Yoryelin and Humberto, but also of millions of Venezuelans. But what none of them knew was that they would witness a world war.

We’ll be back.


[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante.

Our editor Natalia Sánchez Loayza brings us this story.

[Natalia Sánchez Loayza]: In Ciudad Guayana, State of Bolívar, Yoryelin and Humberto’s routine began around 5 in the morning. 

[Humberto]: We would get up, make coffee, and get ready.

[Yoryelin]: You had to play in the early mornings because that was when you could play more. The connection was pathetic, really pathetic.

[Natalia]: Once they managed to connect, they logged into RuneScape and began choosing the world where they would play.

And here we have to understand how this game is structured. Imagine it as a multiverse. It has 230 servers, which function as parallel worlds. Some are for people who downloaded the free version of RuneScape and others are for members, who use the paid version. There are several worlds for beginners, but others that require you to have a certain level of skill. All worlds have the same basic map—the same cities, hills, forests and deserts—in other words, a copy of a copy of a copy, but only paying members have access to special territories.

When a player enters RuneScape, one of the first things they see is a list of those 230 worlds. And each one has a number showing how many players are online in that particular world. Going into a world is not a permanent decision in the game. A player can travel between worlds, but can only be in one at a time.

Yoryelin and Humberto almost always chose one that was free and did not require a very high level. And when they went into paid areas, they looked for those that had fewer active players at the moment, for example, one where they would start killing green dragons.

[Yoryelin]: You dress your avatar, you have your avatar dressed, you have your cannon ball and your cannon. You go to the place where it is, to kill the dragons, and you set your cannon and start shooting arrows at the dragons. Together with cannon balls.

[Natalia]: And once they killed a dragon, they would look for their next victim. 

[Humberto]: This went on all morning, killing dragons. Get up from your chair for a while every two or three hours. Maybe turn on the TV to Discovery or The History Channel, for example, to avoid falling asleep, just to avoid getting bored. And since we had it all down like machines, I would get up and Yoryelin would sit down because we had to keep on going. It was 12 hours, 10 hours a day. There was no down time for that poor computer.

[Natalia]: And although Humberto had experience playing other video games, this one, in fact, felt like a burden to them. But as a full-time job, they took it seriously. And although the days were very long, they were worth it. 

[Humberto]: We got as far as our eyes allowed. There comes a point when your head and your eyes simply don’t respond. And the pain in the wrist, like carpal tunnel, we just couldn’t continue. And that was it. “This is where we stop today. How many Ms did we get?” We did the math. “Well, Yoryi, this week there is enough for one more kilo of chicken.”

[Natalia]: And in case you didn’t catch this correctly, Humberto said that at the end of the day they counted how many Ms they got. An M is one million gold coins in RuneScape. And those Ms—along with other items they won in the game, like hammers, arrows or bracelets—were what Yoryelin and Humberto could later sell on the Internet. Earning money by killing green dragons for hours, or for completing any other repetitive mission, in fact, has a name: gold farming, which means to harvest gold. And in online games, these farmers are users who perform a single action over and over again, and sell their profits to other users.

They started selling on a page called Bogla. 

[Yoryelin]: That’s where we used to sell at first—at first because then that page, well, since it’s illegal, you know, it was shut down.

[Natalia]: It’s illegal, because making money by selling Ms is against the rules of RuneScape, which has a policy—a policy everyone knows—against trading in the real world or Real World Trading. And so, if the game moderators identify that someone is doing this, they can ban those users’ accounts.

So you had to be careful. When they started playing, there was already a community that discussed the best sites to trade Ms. Names were recommended all over private groups on Facebook, Telegram or WhatsApp. When Bogla closed, Yoryelin and Humberto began using another page and also contacted buyers on Facebook.

But there was something else: Although the buyers were on websites or social networks, the transactions had to take place within the game.

[Humberto]: They give you the username. Inside the game, and they’ll say, “My user has this name, you’re going to transfer the Ms to me in batches.” If it was a lot of money, it was transferred in two batches.

[Natalia]: Then the characters met in RuneScape, and Humberto’s character gave the Ms to the buyer’s character. In the game, there are two types of chats: a public one, which can be read by all active players on the screen, and a private one, which can be started with any player. So on the private chat that Humberto started with each buyer, a message would appear:

[Humberto]: And it said, “Look, I’m seeing 50 Ms in the chat,” you said that was right, and then we both accepted.

[Natalia]: That’s how the coins were transferred, and then the buyer had to deposit dollars in Humberto’s Venezuelan bank account. Of course, this system left them exposed to scams, and many people preferred a website where they could verify that users were trustworthy. 

[Humberto]: Normally, once you start selling, you kind of get used to that page, because you know they won’t steal from you, because at the end of the day, when you transfer your gold to another account, it is a leap of faith. They can steal from you, and block you, and you’re done.

[Natalia]: And how much they could earn, or rather, how much each dollar they earned was worth in a successful transaction, depended on how the country was doing that day.

[Humberto]: The problem here in Venezuela is… well, at that time it was worse, it was inflation, so the game, the currency of the game, an M in the game varied according to inflation, so to speak.

[Natalia]: By 2018, the year the couple began working at RuneScape, the Venezuelan inflation rate was the highest in the world. At the beginning of that year, the minimum wage in Venezuela was 2.5 million bolivars, which was equivalent to less than 4 dollars per month on the black market exchange, to which the majority of Venezuelans resorted.

[Humberto]: The situation was very difficult. If we didn’t work one day, we couldn’t eat the following day, so it was life or death.

[Natalia]: And so, strangely, fantasy crept into reality. Suddenly, living in Venezuela required them to learn how to hunt green dragons, zombie monkeys, and shamans in the form of lizards. In order to eat, to survive.

As we’ve said before, gold farming is a common practice in online role-playing games such as RuneScape, so of course, not all the farmers in this game were Venezuelan. There were also farmers from Mexico, Peru, the United States and Egypt, among others. But, of course, selling an M in real life in the United States was very different from selling one in Venezuela. 

[Humberto]: At that time, an M was 30 US cents, if I’m not mistaken; 0.30. Yes. Or 0.50. Something like that. So you can imagine. At that moment, we were rich for the Venezuelan reality. 

[Natalia]: Because even at that price, they could get about 20 dollars a week if they sold 40 Ms of gold. And while working 12 hours a day to earn those Ms may not sound like the most lucrative job in the world, we know that it actually made a huge difference.

[Humberto]: I think that part of the reason why we didn’t migrate, was because of RuneScape, because the need was there, the need was there, but we could pay for food, which was the issue. People left because of hunger.

[Natalia]: Playing RuneScape was a viable way to live everyday life, so they started telling people close to them. Little by little it started becoming a community.

[Yoryelin]: My mother-in-law was a miner. My husband’s nephew was an archer, too. My niece was also an archer. It became part of us. Every day we had a group, a neighbor, a friend of my neighbor, my husband’s niece, my husband’s sister-in-law, all young peoplewe were not even 30. And so we met in the game as well as in person to talk only about our characters.

[Natalia]: It made the long days easier. And so, RuneScape became a fundamental part of the lives of many Venezuelans. The number of players was increasing as the economic crisis worsened. Around that time, the case of the Venezuelan farmers in RuneScape reached the ears of the international press, and it was estimated that about two million people were doing this activity in the country. And there was a certain harmony. Those who used the game for that same purpose, to play, played with those who used it to farm. At least until March 7, 2019.

[Archive soundbite]

[Journalist]: Venezuela was left in the dark on Thursday by a massive blackout that affected Caracas and almost every state in the country…

[Natalia]: Suddenly, the connection between Venezuela and RuneScape was interrupted. The first blackout lasted four days, but some cities did not regain power until a week later. There was another one at the end of the month, also at the national level. And a month later, one more. 

And this, of course, destabilized the worlds of RuneScape. You see, there were so many Venezuelan players by then that blackouts not only left entire worlds empty, but their absence affected the internal economy of the game.

In addition to the market for sales and exchange of weapons, armor, potions and coins that existed on websites or social networks, the game has its own market. A legal one, which is part of RuneScape itself and to which all players have access. It works like an auction where different items are bought and sold in exchange for gold coins—game currency, not real money. And since this market depends on the supply and demand of products, and the supply depended largely on the Venezuelan farmers who collected those products, the blackouts generated a shortage and this led to an inflation that plagued the entire game. 

[Felix Pinto]: Prices skyrocketed because there was little supply of products, thanks to the Venezuelans who weren’t getting products to sell.

[Natalia]: This is Félix Pinto, a player from Caracas. 

[Luis La Rosa]: I remember things that used to cost one million coins went up to 5 or 6 million coins.

[Natalia]: And this is Luis La Rosa, a childhood friend of Félix who used to work with him at RuneScape. When the price of armor or a weapon went up at auction, it affected all players. Because, suddenly, the number of hours you had to play to earn those types of items increased. Suddenly, players had to spend up to a full day playing, instead of hours, to get an axe, for example.

[Luis]: So the players who were not in the same situation as we were, but were playing just for the sake of playing, were kind of upset over that.

[Felix]: There was a rejection from the community who said, “Due to the work of these Venezuelans, everything now costs a lot more money and nothing is stable,” so to speak.

[Natalia]: Because by then, this retro game, almost primitive compared to other games of its type, had a gigantic international community. It is estimated that by 2018, Old School RuneScape had several million users. They were RuneScape fans who had played it for years, from all continents.

And that rejection was felt everywhere, in international forums about the game or in groups on social networks. 

[Yoryelin]: And that’s how it was. Everybody against the Venezuelans. It was horrible.

[Natalia]: And also, of course, in the game’s public chat. This is Luis again:

[Luis]: I remember that I logged into the game, and in the chat I saw a lot of comments cursing Venezuelans, trashing Venezuelans, saying things like, “Oh, I hope there is an end to all Venezuelans,” and things like that. The fact is that we were affecting the way those people had been playing.

[Natalia]: And although the number of Venezuelan farmers went back up again after the blackouts ended, and the market stabilized, by the beginning of 2020 that general annoyance against Venezuelans was still there. Especially in the area where Yoryelin and Humberto went only to hunt green dragons, and which neither Félix nor Luis frequented that much. It’s called the Wilderness.

[Yoryelin]: In the Wilderness. That was awful. 

[Natalia]: In Spanish, Wilderness would be something like a wild, rugged land. And in the game, that’s just what it was. It was north on the map. It was dark, vast, and dangerous.

[Felix]: I spent more time in the safe zone because the Wilderness was very dangerous. It was always full of people at higher levels than you. And they came to kill you.

[Natalia]: On the rest of the map, in a large part of the safe zone, you compete only against the game, while in the Wilderness there are plenty of places where you can face other players. These areas are PvP, that is, player vs. player. And it can be one against one, or in some modes there is no limit to how many can attack you.

And when one or more players killed a player in the Wilderness…

[Luis]: The things the player owned would fall on the ground and anyone could pick them up. Often, that’s what people did in the Wilderness. They waited for players to kill each other to collect things. And that’s how they earned their coins in the game.

[Natalia]: Coins, but also items that were found only in that area. Things like dragon heads, legendary bear claws, or a ring of the gods… which allowed you to get someone’s entire loot. So, although it was a high-risk area, it is also a very profitable one for some people.

[Felix]: And those were the famous PKs. 

[Natalia]: The PKs, the player killers. 

[Yoryelin]: The PKs were the ones who attacked other players. Their job was to kill other players. Thugs. 

[Felix]: They always had a small skull on top, and they were known as the PKs. Those are the people who are going to PK you, that is, they are going to kill you and take everything you’ve got—your money… your money and your soul, practically. 

[Natalia]: They engage in war because it is very lucrative. And also in killing monsters or legendary bosses, meaning the strongest bosses, to get better rewards. They are very competitive, proud, they take wars very seriously, and are also very territorial.

Félix, Luis, Yoryelin and Humberto went into the Wilderness only if they found an empty place there, but none of them was interested in becoming a PK.

Félix helped support his family with his earnings. Luis was paying for college with RuneScape. And don’t forget that Humberto and Yoryelin were there to survive. None of them could risk losing their loot, which was their weekly income. For them, this was not a game.

Humberto’s nephew, the one who had taught them how to play, was actually a PK.

[Humberto]: He was in a different situation. He lived with his parents and all that, so anything he could contribute was a help to the household, but it’s not like they were expecting that money in order to eat. For example, he would kill people; he would start getting other bosses who paid out a lot more money, because the higher the risk, the more the money. He could afford it at the time.

[Natalia]: And although you can be a solitary PK, like Yoryelin and Humberto’s nephew, the usual thing in the Wilderness is to join a clan that you will attack with and that will protect you. The more powerful a clan is, the more territory it can seize. They also control regions and even entire worlds.

In fact, dominating an area allows them to charge in exchange for protecting farmers who want to make money in those areas by fighting monsters. It is similar to what paramilitary groups or gangs do in some countries. They charge some kind of share or quota; they extort anyone who wants to live or work in an area.

And in one of the most lucrative territories in the Wilderness, called the Revenant Caves, lived one of the most feared clans in all of RuneScape.

[Felix]: And it was a very flamboyant clan, well known throughout the community. 

[Natalia]: Reign of Terror, or simply RoT.

[Yoryelin]: The way they dressed was too… too… with extravagant clothes, well dressed. In other words, they dressed too finely. 

[Natalia]: With colorful capes, special armor. Very expensive clothes in the game. And they always had long beards.

[Yoryelin]: Beards, colored hair. Their weapons were like that, too—more attractive and colorful.

[Felix]: They were Anglo-Saxons, but they spoke Spanish. A strange sort of Spanish; it was a provocative language, a language that incited hatred, and we could get into fights, but it was such a powerful clan that it almost always defeated you.

[Natalia]: Reign of Terror could move all over the game. Through the safe zone and throughout the Wilderness. But they controlled those Revenant Caves in nine worlds. These caves are an area where there is no limit to how many can attack you and where legendary monsters could be defeated. Entry was limited to high-level Pay-to-Play members. Yoryelin and Humberto went there on just a few occasions, and Félix and Luis went a few times a week, but they didn’t last more than an hour.

This clan was one of the biggest bullies in the game. They attacked without discrimination, but after the blackouts in Venezuela in 2019, they set a new goal:

[Felix]: Due to all these fluctuations in the game currency, and since many Venezuelans were playing, they maybe took justice into their own hands. They took it on themselves to chase down all the Venezuelans they could find, kill them, and steal everything they had.

[Natalia]: And they were persecuted not only because of what happened in the gaming market after the blackouts, but also because, as the number of Venezuelan farmers increased, the RoT’s business deteriorated.

They also sold items at auctions and were also engaged in farming gold coins, so they did not like that Venezuelans, because there were so many of them, made prices go down.

And there came a point when they decided to target all the Venezuelan players in the game. They made some of them give up and start working for them. They made some of then take care of the areas they controlled and collect extortion. And the rest, the Venezuelan farmers who refused to join them, were hunted all over the map.

[Yoryelin]: My husband’s nephew told us, as if it were real life, because it was like that at the corner of my house, “Hey, you have to be careful, because they are messing with Venezuelans now and saying you have to be careful about the things you say, what you talk about, and where you walk, at such-and-such a time,” things like that.

[Natalia]: The digital and real worlds converged again. It was an exaggerated and cartoonish version of a very real problem on the streets of Venezuela. That year, Venezuela was one of the countries with the highest number of violent deaths in the region, with figures well above other countries considered violent in Latin America. There was tension on the streets, a feeling of insecurity that could be felt by anyone.

Meanwhile, in the game, you had to be careful about what you said in public chats or when someone started a private chat with you. In player versus player areas, farmers were at risk of being attacked and having everything taken from them; and in the safe zone, they risked being reported to the game moderators and had their accounts canceled. Reign of Terror targeted people who spoke Spanish in the chat, people who had names with some mention of Venezuela, or people who were doing the same action over and over again, such as farming. 

[Yoryelin]: Sometimes they would greet you. And you waved back and went on normally, like trusting in God that nothing would happen to you.

We would say hello in English, but if they started asking you things, oh no, I would leave.

[Felix]: Sometimes they wore similar clothes or you could also see the name of the clan, and you would know. They would maybe insult you or tell you, “We know you are Venezuelan,” and when you started answering back, you knew they had other intentions.

It was a very tough season for the Venezuelans, and then the battle came.

[Daniel]: A battle that would change the rules of the game: The Battle of Revenant Caves.

We’ll be back after a break.

[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. 

Natalia Sánchez Loayza continues the story. 

[Natalia]: As we said, by 2019 RuneScape had become the main source of income for many Venezuelan families. But, of course, the game and its 230 worlds were not created for farmers to spend entire weeks killing the same dragons or cutting down the same trees.

In the medieval fantasy universe of RuneScape, each player chooses their own story. Yes, you can be a miner, a fisherman, a lumberjack, an archer… But playing that way in the safe zone, without much risk and without any competition, soon makes the game very boring. To play RuneScape—to play it well, that is, to have fun—you need to fight. Be part of a clan, make alliances, compete against your enemies to attain a victory. In other words, you must know how to participate in an online war and win. It is designed to encourage that.

And, as we already know, not all players in Venezuela were willing to take that risk. In a way, the rules of the game were being changed. The design of the system was being fractured. But some Venezuelans did take risks. Like this person, whom we will call Elejota for his own safety:

[Elejota]: The fact that I do not want to reveal personal data is because I want to protect myself, and not so much myself as my family, the people who live with me, those who share with me. 

[Natalia]: Elejota was born in 2000 and has lived in Maracaibo all his life. He started playing online games as a child, at age 10. He did it with his friends at an Internet cafe, after school or baseball practice.

And that fascinating ability that multiplayer video games have to connect you both with the person next door and with a person on the other side of the world, making friends with someone you would never have met otherwise… well, all that was what got him hooked. 

[Elejota]: It was awesome. It was even addictive. 

[Natalia]: Elejota wanted to go every day, and when he went, he could spend three, four, five hours there. And he was doing well. He discovered that he had a talent for games.

He became so good, he told me, that at fourteen he won an international video game tournament. And with the money he got from that victory, he bought his first computer. 

[Elejota]: That was my first computer, where I actually started playing RuneScape.

[Natalia]: Elejota was already familiar with the game. And, being an experienced player, he had found it boring and slow, and he didn’t like that it was only in English. But the following year, in 2015, as Venezuela’s economic crisis worsened, Elejota learned that some friends had started using RuneScape to make money. They were part of the first wave of players using the version we have mentioned: Old School RuneScape. That same year, the development company enabled an option to play it for free.

So, with that second-hand computer and an Internet USB that he got, Elejota decided to give it a try.

He learned to farm and, with the help of a friend, to sell what he got online. But in his case, unlike players like Yoryelin or Humberto, Elejota would not settle for being a farmer in the safe zone. That same year, he became a PK, and would create his own clan along with his friend.

Gradually, more people were added. 

[Elejota]: We were no longer two people. There were about 15 of us, and then it grew, and we were no longer 15 but 50, and so on.

[Natalia]: His clan lived in the Wilderness. On one of the days we talked, we went into the game together and he showed me that area on the map. 

[Elejota]: Look, that’s the line that divides the game. That’s the line I’m talking about. See, from here down it’s a safe area. From that line to there, it’s the Wilderness. Check it out. It’s huge. We fight on that side of the line. That’s the line that divides the game, and that’s all Wilderness, all that.

[Natalia]: They played there in the Revenant Caves, that area inhabited by the Reign of Terror group. But since they were aware of the reputation of the RoT, the Elejota clan chose other parallel worlds so as not to encounter them.

[Elejota]: And we would kill people all the time and take their loot, everything they had made in the Revenant Caves, and everything was normal, we were not important in the game.

[Natalia]: Over the years, the Elejota clan continued to grow.

But during that process, something became clear: playing in the Wilderness could be dangerous. But not only in the world of RuneScape, a fantasy world, but in the real world, where there is something known as doxxing. This is sharing a player’s personal information on the Internet, for example, their identity and real location. And in Venezuela, this was particularly dangerous. 

[Elejota]: No, this is Venezuela. Here you cannot just go and offend, or insult, or mistreat, or make some hateful gesture at someone else, because you may lose your life just like that, because of nonsense like that. 

[Natalia]: One player said that in the United States, for example, someone had come to break the windows of his house. Aggressive, yes, scary. But, on the other hand, in Venezuela, he told me, he knew people who had been killed because of some conflict in the game. 

[Elejota]: I saw many friends lose their lives for that reason, many members of clans who lost their lives, friends, even two from this clan lost their lives because of that. And this is real. Here they are not going to break windows, and they are not going to insult you, and they are not going to offend you, far from it. Here they can just take your life. As simple as that.

[Natalia]: The two worlds merged. Earning money in the game meant a salary in real life; losing money meant not being able to buy food or medicine. And betraying a friend was also a serious matter. It was betraying someone in need. 

[Elejota]: Imagine that you live in Venezuela, and all you do is play RuneScape to support your family, and suddenly you have a B in the bank, let’s say 1 billion, and let’s say the exchange rate is good and that makes 200 dollars here in Venezuela. So you decide to sell it to buy the medicine your newborn daughter needs, or the food you need in your household, and you choose to sell it to a friend. So, this friend was overly clever and what he did was he scammed you, you gave him the gold, but he never answered. I mean, in the end, that triggers hatred. You are going to go and either get that money or resolve it the hard way.

[Natalia]: Taking care of your identity, keeping your word, and being loyal to your teammates took on a different meaning when there was so much at stake.

By 2018, Elejota’s best friend ended up moving to Colombia and stopped playing RuneScape to earn money, so he decided to continue the clan on his own. He reorganized it and named it TPZ. After the blackouts of 2019, and while hatred against Venezuelans was becoming widespread in the game, TPZ continued taking over worlds, at increasingly higher levels and so getting increasingly closer to RoT.

And in 2020, what we all know happened:

[Elejota]: When the pandemic hits, everyone runs to the internet, to see how they can make a living on the internet. 

[Natalia]: RuneScape now had more Venezuelan players than ever. They were trying to earn enough to cope with an almost impossible situation:  hyperinflation combined with the pandemic. And there were so many new players that the game was beginning to get saturated. This is Yoryelin again: 

[Yoryelin]: If you play for fun, it is better if there are more people. But if you do it to make money, it was chaos because there were a lot of people and the worlds are limited.

[Natalia]: More farmers not only meant full worlds, but also excess items for sale, excess demand and therefore a drop in prices. But for Elejota and his clan, this was a good thing. His clan doubled and he also had an idea: start charging less to protect farmers who wanted to work in his worlds. Reign of Terror did not like this one bit. Remember, they continued killing Venezuelan farmers or reporting them to the game’s moderators so that their accounts would be banned. 

[Elejota]: We created competition in the market. And they decided to wage war on us. They declared war on us, they decided to just persecute us, harass us, insult us.

[Natalia]: In July 2020, the war between Reign of Terror and the Venezuelan clans had begun. In addition to ambushing members of Elejota’s clan, RoT players and others who worked for them infiltrated TPZ’s private chats. By then, in addition to the game chat, the clans were using Discord, an app that is very famous among gamers, which also allows you to call and make video calls in private or community chats. So Reign of Terror found ways to get into the TPZ Discord group to spy on their strategies and convince clan members to betray Elejota.

At the same time, Reign of Terror declared war on the rest of RuneScape’s Latin American clans. There were about 13 at the time. Several leaders knew each other, or at least knew who their users were because there were alliances and also rivalries. And although they fought over territory, they had not fought major wars against each other.

But by July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, RoT began to turn them against each other. Elejota called the leaders of the Latino clans on Discord, and one of them said that the best thing he could do was surrender and join Reign of Terror. 

[Elejota]: I tell him, “I’m sorry, brother, I can’t join. I’m not going to join those rats,” as it is customary to call them. And I tell him that, basically, I’m going to war against them. I’m going to make war against them and I have no choice but to go to war against him.… 

[Natalia]: He was going to face one of the biggest bullies in the game on behalf of his clan and all the Venezuelans that Reign of Terror attacked or had under its control. Because not only had they been eliminating Venezuelan accounts for months, but they continued charging the same high rates to the clans they were defeating or making them work for them. It was a matter of pride and money.

Elejota called in reinforcements. A clan led by a friend and former rival of his who is also Venezuelan and called himself Vasu Vasu. And another clan led by an Egyptian who called himself Mohammed Saso. And together, they began to attack Reign of Terror.

They fought battles among various players for weeks. And, of course, these wars began to be discussed in the chats of the game itself, by regular players, PKs and farmers. This is Yoryelin again: 

[Yoryelin]: In the same game where they commented whether they had gone, whether they went or not, whether this or that, whether they had not gone, and things like that, did you see that we are going. And I thought… “Oh, no!”

[Natalia]: Neither she nor her husband fought in those battles, but they did see them up close.

[Humberto]: At three in the morning, two in the morning, that’s when the experts play—15, 17-year-old high school kids who were hooked on the game. 

[Natalia]: Kids like Elejota, who had turned 20 that year. 

[Humberto]: They were there for the fun and the adrenaline, because it is pure adrenaline. Killing people, running away, everyone changing maps, and items that cost millions were coming out in the game. One item was our monthly work, but it was impossible for us. 

[Natalia]: Impossible to participate in the war when their Internet was so unstable and when they had so much to lose. So what they did was wait for the confrontations to end.

[Humberto]: In reality, we went, we did go, but we weren’t going as protagonists; we went to collect the spoils.

[Natalia]: Because—let’s remember—in the Wilderness, when a player dies, their things fall to the ground and anyone can pick them up. So Yoryelin and Humberto jumped in when the battles ended, and collected what was left of the loot.

[Humberto]: We were picking up everything that was on the ground, and we even made… on those days we made more money than in regular jobs.

[Natalia]: It was an unexpected opportunity. And when rumors of war reached the international RuneScape community in September, another group saw a different opportunity. That group was the AntiRoT.

[Elejota]: AntiRoT is the alliance that totally disagrees with RoT and with the clans or alliances that are with RoT. There were both foreign AntiRoT Americans and AntiRoT Latinos.

[Natalia]: And when they heard about this war, the Anglo-Saxon AntiRoT decided to help Elejota, his allies, and anyone who wanted to join. To motivate them to keep fighting and not give up, they raised reward money for anyone who faced up to RoT. And what AntiRoT offered was very attractive:

[Elejota]: I think the prize was around 5 billion, or something like that, for about, I don’t know, five clans.

[Natalia]: Five billion gold coins, equaling about 3 thousand dollars, says Elejota. Many millions in Venezuela. This further motivated Elejota and Vasu Vasu to keep on fighting.

So Elejota spent hours and hours every day, attacking. He took turns with his allies to make sure they didn’t have a moment’s rest. It was exhausting. 

[Elejota]: It was really, really, really stressful, exhausting, and, well… it was a difficult time.

[Natalia]: And for Elejota this was serious. Video games are part of his identity. 

[Elejota]: In the game I can be everything I can’t be in real life. In this game, I dare to be more extroverted, to share more, to be more sociable. Of course, I do that with my circle or with my clan. Beyond or outside of that, I maintain a fairly firm and sober image for my opponents, my rivals.

[Natalia]: With that firmness, he continued the attack for a couple of weeks. And while RoT was losing power, the players who opposed RoT decided to set a date and place for the final confrontation. It would occur in the Revenant Caves at the end of September 2020.

At last, it seemed that the war was about to end. But the day after that agreement, the leader of one of the rival clans, who was also Venezuelan, found something on social media that would change the course of the plan.

It was a photo, a meme, showing some businessmen sitting around an office table, and the distinctive features of RoT had been added: men with beards and bald heads. And on the ground, trampled by one of those businessmen, was the Venezuelan flag. 

[Elejota]: So they spread this photo as if letting it be known that they were trampling on those Venezuelan clans, and all those Venezuelan clans that were opposing them, but unaware that the mafia was basically made up of 90% Venezuelans. So they tried to offend us but at the same time they ended up hurting themselves.

[Natalia]: Because after that meme, several Latino clans decided they wanted to attack right away. And without waiting for Elejota, they started to attack:

[Elejota]: I remember that it was around eight o’clock and I was having dinner, when I was told to go to Discord. When I saw Discord, I had thousands—I think thousands, I couldn’t even count the huge amount of messages and notifications I had.

[Natalia]: The final battle had begun sooner than planned. And once Elejota entered, more Latino clans began to rebel as well. 

[Elejota]: To give you an idea, there were small clans and large clans, of course, but we were about 600 people, more or less connected, all together, coordinated. And that’s just Latinos, not counting Americans, foreigners and other nationalities. Not counting any of them. 

[Natalia]: It was huge. 

[Elejota]: The magnitude of everything was so… I don’t know, so overwhelming that even the computer I had with Discord on it crashed at times or it would stop, it would freeze, but it was the number of people who were on a single server for a single purpose.

[Natalia]: I saw a video of those moments, one that a group of Latin American clans uploaded to YouTube and, believe me, it’s crazy. There are so many players in one place, all attacking at the same time, that to an untrained eye like mine, it is impossible to read their names, know who is attacking whom, who is defending whom, understand who is losing and who is winning. 

The battle lasted for days. And its repercussions were felt all over the map. This is Luis La Rosa, one of the farmers from Caracas whom we met at the beginning of this story:

[Luis]: I did not go to participate in the war as such, but I was curious to see what was happening. I do remember that where we were, there were… oh, thousands of people. All against all. That’s what it was. Everyone dying.

I remember the chat, too; I mean, the chat was incredible… I mean, you couldn’t read anything because it was messages and more messages, and more messages, and all of them saying things like, “You die,” “No, you die.” 

[Natalia]: Players entered and left the battle. They killed or died over and over again at intervals, separated by more mundane things, like school, work, time with family, and the consequences of a pandemic. The responsibilities of the other world. I can imagine any player, a hypothetical player sitting in front of their computer for hours, killing another maybe not out of hatred, but not indifferent, either. And then going to visit their grandmother. I don’t know, it is a made-up situation, but completely possible. It seems surreal to me. The ordinary interrupting the extraordinary. Or vice versa. Elejota said a few minutes ago that RuneScape allows him to be someone he can’t be in real life. I think that, for many Venezuelan players like him, it must also be about the fact that the video game allows them to be someone they don’t want to be in real life. Just for a moment. Just to try. Maybe to be sure that they prefer to be the person who hugs their grandmother and not the one who kills another person.

And finally, after four weeks, things took a turn for Elejota and his allied clans. 

[Elejota]: They couldn’t keep up a war against us. Then everything turned around and we started hunting them. As I always say, in order to fight, you always carry equipment, you carry your armor, you carry your things. Well, they were naked, fighting naked, as if their banks were broken, as if there was nothing else to fight with.

[Natalia]: Reign of Terror did not admit it publicly, but for Elejota, this meant victory.

But right at that moment, an agent much larger than any other monster, player, or clan appeared. The war had been so big that it reached the ears of Jagex, the company that created RuneScape.

On October 16, 2020, after almost a month of confrontation between the Latino clans and RoT, a notice came to all players announcing a very important change: the Revenant Caves would no longer be a multiplayer area; only one player would be allowed against another player.

Which means that large armies could no longer confront each other. The thing is it had become impossible for any other player who had nothing to do with this conflict to enter the Revenant Caves.

When the Revenant Caves changed, the clans abandoned them and dispersed back across different worlds. The war officially ended.

In all, the war lasted about four months. And while armies lost everything to the point of being left fighting naked, and while the Latin American clans won against a historical enemy, while all that was happening in the Revenant Caves… outside the game, in the world of Venezuela, there was no talk of victory.

By the end of 2020, Venezuela was facing a tremendous humanitarian crisis. Millions of Venezuelans lacked access to basic health services, in the middle of the pandemic. Food and medicine were scarce. That year alone, 2,000 people were murdered in government security operations.

And for these reasons, the exodus of Venezuelans became the largest migration crisis in the recent history of Latin America. As Humberto, Yoryelin’s husband, said at the beginning of this episode, people left Venezuela hungry. Both of them, who stayed thanks to RuneScape at first, stopped playing in the year after the war, in 2021. 

[Yoryelin]: I stopped playing. All the games fell apart due to the pandemic. Everything, boy, everything.

[Natalia]: All over the map, in the Wilderness, but also in the safe zone, there were so many Venezuelans due to the pandemic that the Ms were devalued to the point that it was no longer profitable to work there. And as a result, farmers began migrating to other online games where farming could also be done. An acquaintance once again told Yoryelin and Humberto about the game that everyone seemed to be playing.

[Yoryelin]: When we heard about that other game, well, everyone started migrating there. That was a boom here.

[Natalia]: By 2021, all the farmers in this story had stopped working on RuneScape. Félix and Luis completed college and began working in jobs related to their careers. Even Elejota took a break. He needed to recover after spending so much time playing indoors during the pandemic. And in February 2023, he returned to RuneScape, but this time only to play war, not to work.

Also in 2023, Yoryelin and Humberto stopped being farmers. They got their degrees in Education and, although they are paid very little, they now work in the field they studied. For now, they still have one of their RuneScape avatars. It will be for their daughter, for the time when she grows up and is allowed to enter the worlds where her parents were once medieval archers. Worlds they both hope she’ll enter just to play. In other words, a better world.

[Isabel Medem]: Hello, I’m Isabel Medem, from London, United Kingdom. And I am part of Deambulantes, the membership program of Radio Ambulante Studios. I support them because, by telling us stories we would have never known about, such personal and unique stories, Radio Ambulante allows us to travel imaginatively throughout Latin America and feel part of a community. If you want to help them continue telling Latin America’s stories, visit radioambulante.org/donar. As part of the benefits of being a Deambulante, I will read the credits of today’s episode.

Natalia Sánchez Loayza is an editor for Radio Ambulante and lives in Philadelphia, United States. This story was edited by Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas and Daniel Alarcón. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri and Ana Tuirán with original music by Ana.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Adriana Bernal, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Rémy Lozano, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO. 

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program. 

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.


Natalia Sánchez Loayza

Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas and Daniel Alarcón

Bruno Scelza

Andrés Azpiri and Ana Tuirán

Ana Tuirán

Sarai Álvarez


Episode 27