To combat Somali pirates, the U.S. Navy has relied on warships, snipers and SEAL teams. Now, it is turning to the heavy artillery: Internet gamers.
This month, the Office of Naval Research will roll out the military's first online war game open to the public, crowd-sourcing the challenges of maritime security to thousands of "players" sitting in front of their computers.
The project, named MMOWGLI (the acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet), is a video game for policy wonks. It aims to replicate a traditional military strategy session on an exponentially larger scale, bringing together a diverse mix of government and outside experts that would be impossible even in the largest Pentagon conference room.
Through virtual simulation and social media tools made popular on Twitter and Facebook, players will work together to respond to a series of make-believe geopolitical scenarios set off when private ships are hijacked off Somalia's coast.
"We live in an echo chamber," Lawrence Schuette, the naval research office's innovation chief, said of the military. "The advantage of online crowd-sourcing is obvious: You have many more intersections and many more diverse backgrounds."
Thanks in part to prelaunch publicity, more than 7,000 people have signed up for MMOWGLI, far beyond the 1,000 that developers had anticipated for the $450,000 pilot project.