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How Gamification Can Break Down Bureaucracy and Address Real World Problems

Apr 15, 2016

The world’s toughest challenges require out-of-the-box thinking. But how can agencies facilitate intentional, structured collaboration that leads to this thinking? Gamification.

Gamification in business concept illustration

To address issues ranging from maritime piracy to Naval energy use to 3D printing, the Navy uses gamification via MMOWGLI, the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet.

MMOWGLI is an online gaming platform that connects players in order to spark innovative thinking about a particular topic. The platform was created by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) on behalf of the Office of Naval Research, and NPS has hosted over 20 games since 2012.

Becca Law, Faculty Research Associate for the MOVES Institute at NPS and lead MMOWGLI game designer, said the most important part of MMOWGLI is the space it creates for uninhibited collaboration in the highly structured government and military environment.

“We talk about how we can’t get past barriers that inhibit ideas: MMOWGLI strips away those barriers and all you see is substance,” Law said. “Ideas are valued on merit, instead of level of education, expertise, gender or any of those things. The biggest impact of MMOWGLI is the way people collaborate and the way we generate new ideas or ‘knowledge accidents,’ as we call them. Game sponsors have gotten outlier ideas that they wouldn’t have gotten from traditional means of collaboration.”

Law defined a “sweet spot” for using MMOWGLI: “Situations where you are struggling with a difficult challenge, do not possess all the answers or need to transcend your usual ways of knowing.” The current MMOWGLI launches in early April and is focused on recruiting millenials for the Navy and Marine Corps.


The game begins with a compelling call-to-action (CTA) that defines a problem. It can be fictional or realistic, but the CTA is pitched as an ‘incomplete narrative’ in order to have players collaborate and generate solutions.

Participants post ideas, respond to others’ ideas and can call for further expertise. Each idea is labeled as a “card,” and players earn points based on a card’s influence and perceived value. The cards are built together into “card chains,” forming larger ideas or concepts. Players who contribute to the most intriguing ideas are invited to work on an “action plan,” which is focused on sharpening the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the idea. Action plans are awarded points by players.

There are multiple ways that players earn points:

  • Exploration points are given when other participants react to a player’s idea cards.
  • Implementation points are earned when a player contributes to an action plan.
  • Game Masters can mark a player’s ideas as “super interesting.”
  • The design team will consider additional awards for the best contributions after each move of the game.

A leaderboard shows who has the most points in the game, and positions can quickly change. After the game concludes, the best ideas and concepts are considered for adoption by game sponsors.

Screen capture of the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI) players portal.

MMOWGLI runs in any Web browser. The MMOWGLI players portal contains resources about the platform as a whole, and there is a blog associated with each MMOWGLI game.

Using MMOWGLI in Diverse Settings

The platform is evolving beyond traditional game settings: The National Defense University and the NATO School have used MMOWGLI in their classrooms, and it is also being used to augment a session at the MODSIM WORLD modeling and simulation conference this year and at the I/ITSEC conference in December.

Law said one of the most exciting aspects of the platform has been repurposing it for classroom and conference use. There are also many other places that Law envisions MMOWGLI being used in the future.

“We want MMOWGLI to be accessible to others outside of the federal government, and we want it to be an open source project,” Law said. “I’d also like to see it used to break down the barriers we have around larger topics: maybe it can tackle social issues we are facing that the federal government can’t tackle, that affect the broader public. I also think there is a real opportunity in education, especially from a distance-learning perspective. Can we integrate MMOWGLI into universities and research to enhance education?”

Law also noted that there is great potential for research and data analytics based on the wealth of data collected during game simulations.