Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Yarrrr, MMOWGLI Turn 2

This past week, the Naval Postgraduate School ran a prelaunch playtest of Turn 2 of the MMOWGLI crowd-sourcing platform. Building on the earlier Turn 1 anti-piracy scenario, this time they advanced the clock to 2014 when a “Yemeni-Somali Union” had emerged to sponsor piracy in the area.

But now, in 2014, the situation has changed. The Yemen-Somalia-Union (YSU) is a powerful, ambiguous new alliance in the Gulf of Aden–needed economic revenue say some; to others, an amplified form of illegal piracy. The YSU militia has leapt beyond skiffs: fast vessels, geo-mapping tech, even automatic IDs to collect their tolls.

Unlike the quick 120 character tweets that characterized Turn 1, in Turn 2 participants could collaboratively author longer and more sophisticated “action plans,” which others could then rate.

While my own participation was limited by intermittent internet access, I did have a few quick impressions to offer.

  1. I’m not sure how the relationship between Idea Cards and Action Plans is supposed to work. Why (other than generating a higher score) would one post an action card, when it often seems easier and more useful to comment on a plan directly? Moreover, as the discussion becomes more detailed and sophisticated, the character restrictions of the Idea Cards seems ever more limiting. As old Idea Cards are pushed to the bottom of stacks and forgotten, many of the new ones seem repetitive.
  2. I’m not sure the gamification/scoring system contributes anything—indeed, I think it may actually be counterproductive at a couple of levels. First, it may encourage gaming-the-game, rather than placing emphasis on quality inputs and discussion. Second, confusion as to how scores are generated might actually demobilize participants. As we’ve noted before, there is some scientific literature that suggests that extrinsic in-game rewards might actually be inversely related to the quality of participation. For professional purposes of the sorts that MMOWGLI is directed towards, I would have thought that creativity and substance would be sufficient rewards in and of themselves.
  3. In terms of the pirate scenario, there was inadequate information available upon which to base any serious action. This was especially true with regard to the political character of the YSU, which was merely described as “ambiguous.” Was it an alliance of non-state groups—and if so, what was the domestic political situation in the two countries that allowed this? Was the YSU an interstate group? Was it a credible claimant to state authority, or have ambitions to secure international recognition? Did it have any ideological goals or character? What are its relationships with key regional actors? If it is “powerful,” what is the source of its power? Who might oppose it within Somalia and Yemen? How had the Middle East, the Horn, and East Africa changed by 2014? Etc, etc. Too many participants seemed willing to propose a military-based solution without any clear information on who they were fighting.

The first and second of these points are fairly substantial conceptual challenges to MMOWGLI as it is currently designed. The third, by contrast, is a content issue that would easily vary from game to game. In a current, real-life scenario players can do outside research to inform their game ideas and proposed actions. In a future scenario, however, it is often necessary to provide substantial detail. In the case of non-state armed groups, failed states, and piracy such background material is absolutely essential, since context is everything. (In the fictional Carana simulation I have just finished observing, which also included a small piracy dimension, participants are provided with between 19 and 42 pages of background material depending on their role—plus an initial video.)

That having been said, the whole point of MMOWGLI is to explore crowd-sourcing in a structured way. It continues to be a very interesting experiment, with considerable potential.


One response to “Yarrrr, MMOWGLI Turn 2

  1. David Becker 03/07/2011 at 11:35 am

    Could not agree more with the issue of not understanding where the pirates are coming from. The solution to piracy will never be playing whack-a-mole with pirates, even with cool technology, at least so long as there are big payoffs that justify the big risks. But changing the rules of the game might actually change the outcomes. One way we did that was using the the Marines in Tripoli over 100 years ago. It raised the cost of supporting the Barbary pirates. I am not sure that would work now though, although with move 2 looking more like a nation-state case, it seems more likely. Another game changer would be to raise shipping insurance rates to cover the cost of national navy protection measures – which means that ship owners would behave differently. They might not be so willing to pay off, would be more willing to collaborate (self protect, or convoy) and might support other direct measures.(Paying the Puntland government to enforce the law? Paying bounties?)

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