Plugged In

U.S. Navy taps gamers to help hunt pirates

Bumper Jack

View photo



Most pirate-themed video games encourage players to strap a parrot to their shoulder and hoist the skull and crossbones. Now the Navy -- yes, the U.S. Navy -- is asking gamers to walk the other side of the plank.

Starting Monday, the naval branch of the military will launch an experimental online game that hopes to tap the collective intelligence of gamers to help combat real-world pirates terrorizing the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Dubbed MMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet), the game was developed by the Office of Naval Research and represents the first time the military has embraced gamification and crowdsourcing techniques to tackle real-world crises. Somalian piracy is the initial focus, but officials say the platform can be adapted to other military interests as well.

Scheduled to run for three weeks, the game expects to recruit more than 1,000 players to collaborate together. It won't be a graphical tour de force, but odds are it will provide a lot more intellectual stimulation than, say, Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas.

According to Wired, players will be presented with a scenario blending fiction with real-world facts. From there, they'll pick one of two actions and be given 140 characters with which to explain their action. Fellow players will vote on the best suggestion and expand on it, challenge the idea or ask questions about it. The most popular ideas move onto the next round.

That's a little different than the game was originally planned. Planning documents from the Office of Naval Research show the initial idea was to have players split into several teams, representing the heroes (SEAL team members and other military and law enforcement types), pirates, warlords and regional governments.

"We hope MMOWGLI will help us to understand what happens when your insights are combined with the observations and actions of another player," said Dr. Larry Schuette, ONR's director of Innovation, whose office is managing the project. "Will that fusion result in a game-changing idea or solution, or will the MMOWGLI platform teach us something about our traditional thought processes?


View Comments (4)