Farmville and MafiaWars have captivated millions of internet users for several hours at a time, but to no practical end. The United States Navy, however, has recognized that internet gamers could have some good ideas to lend to military strategies, and is working on a way to use those ideas to their benefit.
Soon, the U.S. Office of Naval Research will be launching the MMOWGLI (Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) project, which will use virtual simulation and social media tools that will allow gamers to participate in hypothetical scenarios that simulate the challenges the military branch faces when private ships are hijacked off the coast of Somalia.
“We live in an echo chamber,” naval research office innovation chief Lawrence Schuette told the Washington Post. “The challenge is you always want to have an audience that’s diverse in background, diverse in thinking. It’s those intersections where you see creativity occurring. The advantage of online crowd-sourcing is obvious: You have many more intersections and many more diverse backgrounds.”
A MMOWGLI simulation won’t have great graphics or action, but rather video clips and scenarios presented to players who are then prompted to share what actions could take place and what risks may result. Such a scenario might look something like this:
“Three pirate ships are holding the world hostage. Chinese-U.S. relations are strained to the limit and both countries have naval ships in the area. Humanitarian aid for rig workers is blocked. The world is blaming the U.S. for plundering African resources.”
Players then post short ideas for dealing with the situation and the registered players can vote on their favorites. Communities then form around the most popular ideas and explore actions plans on a more in-depth scale.
There is currently not a firm launch date for the game, though the MMOWGLI website indicates a Spring launch. The game’s developers from the non-profit “Institute for the future” initially expected only around 1000 sign-ups for the pilot program, but have received over 7000 to date. They are now taking some extra time to make sure their systems can handle a larger capacity.
It’s certainly an intriguing idea that has the potential to produce some creative approaches for the Navy. There will need to be some serious quality control however. We all know that the internet as a collective contains some intense brilliance, but is also countered with equally intense stupidity. This experiment could be either a big win or a major disappointment for Naval Research officials.