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Reserve hopes gamers can help plot the future

Nov. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A screen shot from a multiplayer online game designed to help the Navy Reserve find creative solutions to its ongoing challenges, such as budget concerns and integration with the active component.
A screen shot from a multiplayer online game designed to help the Navy Reserve find creative solutions to its ongoing challenges, such as budget concerns and integration with the active component. (Navy)
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Gamers will soon get their crack at one tough challenge: Figuring out the Navy Reserve’s future.

The Navy is launching an online game Nov. 4 in which thousands of sailors and Navy employees can develop solutions about how to match the Reserve’s training and missions to an era of declining budgets.

As far as gameplay, don’t expect “Grand Theft Auto.” It’s more like a turn-based strategy game, where the anonymous players get points for offering the best ideas.

So, why play? Your ideas could help the leaders reshape the Reserve to better help the Navy. And the top-performing sailors may get recommendation letters from a flag officer — and score some points toward advancement.

“What we’re really hoping to get out of this is to be able to find a balance between active, civilian and Reserve forces, how we can better balance their capabilities and capacities in order to maintain some of our missions going forward,” said Capt. Jim Loper, the concepts and innovation lead at Navy Warfare Development Command, which is running the game. “We know some of the greatest ideas come from the deck plates and the flight lines.”

Officials see this as a unique opportunity to inject sailor suggestions into high-level decisions about the future of the Navy Reserve and as a chance to build on the momentum created in the last few months by the Navy’s innovative campaign to reduce administration distractions.

NWDC will present the gamers’ recommendations to Vice Adm. Robin Braun, the chief of the Navy Reserve, who commissioned the crowdsourced study.

The first part of this Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet, pronounced “MOW-gli,” is the idea discovery phase, running Nov. 4-10.

'Shape the road ahead'

Gamers begin by tackling “root cards” planted by the game designers. Each asks a question for gamers to address. They can build upon the card’s idea or counter it.

Participants can also vote on the cards, giving the user who offered it bonus points. And the moderators — or “game masters,” in gamer-speak — can shape the ideas in real time by scoring a suggestion with everything from “super interesting” to “scenario fail,” or hiding it altogether.

Game masters will “present users through the week with blogs, kind of lead them from what’s the paradigm today for how reserves work, to how did we use the reserves in the past: the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s,” said Steve Rowe, head of the NWDC’s Innovation Campaign division, in an Oct. 31 phone interview. “It is a game in that players earn points, not for volume of cards but for the kind of response they generate with their ideas. So if you have a really great idea, you throw it out there, everybody comments on it. You get a lot of points.”

Users will get a second crack at it Dec. 2-8, when they’ll get to refine the proposals developed in the November phase.

The Navy has used the MMOWGLI format to develop ways to boost energy efficiency or even fight piracy. But this latest challenge may be the most broad.

Some of the issues players must assess: the drawdown from Afghanistan; the so-called “pivot” to the Pacific; and the possibility that cuts triggered by sequestration may compel the Navy to make hard choices, such as shedding up to three carrier strike groups.

“The message to the players: Here is your chance, from no matter where you sit in the chain of command or what organization you’re in, to help us shape the road ahead,” Rowe explained.

Some examples of the kinds of problems gamers will be solving:

■ How will the shift to the Pacific affect the need for Reserve corpsman and medical officers, who’ve been in high demand in the ground wars?

■ Most reservists deploy individually to support the war effort. Will that change in the future, highlighting the need for more reserve ships and squadrons?

■ Does the Reserve have enough cyber sailors?

Officials hope the game inspires brainstorming between reservists and active-duty sailors.

“So following the cyber example, what we’re hoping to get is the active guys say, ‘Cyber is an area we could use some help in,’” Loper said. “And you get a Reserve guy going in there and saying, ‘Hey, on the civilian side we have a lot of IT professionals and other folks that can help you out with that.’”

Loper said the game’s results will be provided to Braun by mid-February.

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