By Tina Casey
If Call of Duty has lost its sparkle, the U.S. Navy hopes you are ready to play a different kind of online wargame.
Today the Navy will open up a new version of its MMOWGLI gaming project to players around the world, to develop innovative new “outlier” strategies for Navy and Marine Corps energy supplies.
MMOWGLI - which stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet - was launched last June to enlist help from unconventional thinkers to tackle the issue of piracy with an eye to the Navy’s future technologies, tactics and logistics in 2021 and beyond.
The new iteration, EnergyMMOWGLI, asks the question, “How can the Navy best meet future energy demands?” Drilling for more oil is out - the game is specifically focused on reducing fossil fuel dependency.
As IdeaLab has previously reported, the Department of the Navy has already begun an aggressive transition out of fossil fuels along with the Army and Air Force. The official description of EnergyMMOWGLI expounds on a number of familiar themes:
This dependency degrades our strategic position and the tactical performance of our forces. The global supply of oil is finite, it is increasingly difficult to find, and cost continues to rise. We need to improve our energy security, increase our energy independence, and help lead the nation towards a clean energy economy. Among other themes, we [EnergyMMOWGLI] plan to examine the Navy Energy Security Strategy and consider Energy Efficient Acquisition, Sail the “Great Green Fleet,” Reduce Non-Tactical Petroleum Use, Increase Alternative Energy Ashore, and Increase Alternative Energy Use DON-Wide.
The timing of the new game’s launch is somewhat unfortunate given that the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee voted last week to effectively prohibit the Department of Defense from purchasing any alternative fuel that costs more than petroleum. That effectively eliminates biofuels, at least for the near future.
The vote permits the Navy to move ahead with purchasing enough biofuel to perform certification tests, but if the new policy takes hold that would probably put the kibosh on the Great Green Fleet, which in real life is scheduled to sail in 2014.
Presumably, however, whatever the Armed Services Committee does will have little impact in the online world of EnergyMMOWGLI.
In any case, biofuels are just one part of the Navy and Marine Corps’ emerging energy strategy, which includes conservation and energy efficiency logistics, smart microgrids, and advanced battery technologies as well as scavenging on-site energy including solar and wind power.
EnergyMMOWGLI project Manager Dr. Larry Schuette of the Office of Naval Research explains:
Energy efficiency is very important to the warfighter, yet it’s usually one of the last things we think about. The fewer times a truck, tank, ship or airplane needs to be refueled, the greater the operational tempo. At the end of the day, it’s all about warfighter effectiveness: the greater the energy efficiency, the higher the effectiveness.
MMOWGLI was developed by the Office of Naval Research through the Naval Postgraduate School and the Institute for the Future, a California-based sustainability research organization.
Basically, the game enables multiple players to collaborate and brainstorm on new ideas through a shared online interface.
Players move through the game by responding to a series of “Call to Action” videos that define particular problems. For EnergyMMOWGLI, the storyline focuses on energy efficiency and portability within harsh environments. Cost is also an important factor.
The players post their solutions in the form of “cards,” and they earn points based on a scoring algorithm that rewards innovative thinking.
Cards from different players can be linked in chains to form interrelated concepts, and those that describe something particularly interesting are awarded a “Super Interesting” designation by moderators. Players who contribute to promising concepts are invited to step up to the “Action Plan” level, which provides support for fleshing out and pitching ideas, as well as opportunities to earn more points.
There is no prize at the end, but winning ideas get to be considered by the Office of Naval research and other stakeholders with the potential for influencing real-life strategy.