U.S. Navy turns to online gaming to solve energy woes

The US Navy is running a massive online game to crowd source ideas from the public on how it can increase its operational efficiency through a smarter energy policy.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor
(Image credit: US Navy)

The United States Navy foresees a future where the rising cost of oil will create operational vulnerabilities. In response, it has devised a massive online game to crowd source innovative ideas from the public to sink its energy challenges.

Researchers at the Navy's Naval Postgraduate School and the Institute for the Future, a California non-profit focused on sustainability issues, today announced an upcoming game called EnergyMMOWGLI. The game will launch starting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 22, and run for three days.

The game immerses players in a dystopian year 2022; energy security is costly (a barrel of oil costs as much as a dishwasher) and resources are strained. Players battle with their wits by brainstorming how to diversify energy supply with alternative fuels, increase efficiency, and reduce overall fuel consumption.

EnergyMMOWGLI is "an examination of what our energy future looks like if we fail to act now. Every day that petroleum prices increase, it erodes our ability to train for and execute operations that our nation demands of us. Little by little, that results in decreased combat capability, and that is something we simply cannot accept," said Cmdr. James Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office.

Another game announced last year focused on devising strategies to combat the rising threat of piracy along trade routes. The scenario was set off the coast of Somalia, and over 16,000 players registered to participate.

The Navy is embracing a trend known as "serious gaming," which has entered both business and government organizations. My friend and past colleague Alex Handy today wrote about how a Gartner research study found that more than 50 percent of business that manage "innovation processes" will "gamify" those processes by 2015.

Serious gamers have been gathering for an annual summit since 2004 to discuss the ramifications of gameplay upon society. One of its initial participants was Alcoa, which uses gaming to instruct workers how to safely operate forklifts.

The Navy is also taking its gaming very seriously. "We hope to increase the awareness of energy security as a national security issue as well as stimulating discussion that will allow the Navy to achieve greater energy resiliency and combat readiness," Cmdr. Goudreau said.

Here's a preview of the gameplay:

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