Navy Uses Massive Multiplayer Online Game to Develop Anti-Pirate Strategy

The Navy's online game will help the military fight Somali pirates.
The Navy's online game will help the military fight Somali pirates. (Image credit: Office of Naval Research)

To fight piracy off the coast of Africa, the U.S. Navy has deployed advanced warships, robotic drones and even elite special forces. The Navy has now added a new weapon to that fight: a "World of Warcraft"-like multiplayer game called MMOWGLI. The game brings experts from around the government into a virtual environment where they can work together in developing strategies to thwart modern-day buccaneers.

MMOWGLI, an acronym contracted from "Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet," has undergone years of development within the Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR scientists hope to expand the program beyond piracy, and use it to solve some of the world’s most intractable military problems.

"MMOWGLI is an online game designed to find and collectively grow breakthrough ideas to some of the Navy's most complex problems — those 21st-century threats that demand new forms of collaboration and truly outlying ideas," said Dr. Larry Schuette, ONR's director of Innovation, whose office is managing the project.

Essentially a giant game version of selective crowd sourcing, the initial MMOWGLI test will run for three weeks while the ONR recruits online players from across the government to suggest ways of combating piracy off the coast of Somalia.

ONR intends to produce varying results from a diverse group of players drawn from the ranks of academia, defense, and government and nongovernment organizations. The plan is for MMOWGLI to identify solutions to difficult challenges by tapping into the intellectual capital of a broader community.

The piracy scenario was chosen as a means to demonstrate the platform, but MMOWGLI itself can be applied to any scenario, officials said. MMOWGLI will also be a template for aiding future users faced with their own complex problems, said Garth Jensen, director of innovation Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock division, who is leading the project.

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