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[] WPO 06.12.02: Outgaming Osama / Network centric warfare,

Washington Post
December 6, 2002
Pg. 45

Outgaming Osama

By David Ignatius

Can online gaming help defeat Osama bin Laden? That's not as silly a 
proposition as it may sound.

A Pentagon-sponsored group called the Highlands Forum met this week to 
discuss what are known as "Massively Multiplayer Online Games." These 
games, which can allow several million people to play, are among the 
hottest new trends in the Internet world, and they may have some 
fascinating uses in fighting terrorist networks.

The cutting edge for these multiplayer games is South Korea, which probably 
has the world's deepest penetration of high-speed (or "broadband") Internet 
connections. According to online gaming expert J.C. Herz, more than 2 
million people a month play South Korea's most popular online game, 
Lineage, with as many as 180,000 of them signed on some nights.

Lineage is a Korean variant of the sort of Dungeons and Dragons combat 
that's so popular in computer gaming. It's a role-playing game, set in 
medieval Europe, in which the followers of an evil king's stepson help him 
try to regain his rightful place on the throne. The followers are known as 
the "Blood Pledges," and they try to capture castles -- which then allows 
them to levy taxes, buy more weapons and continue their assault against the 

Explains Herz: "Competing Blood Pledges, large gangs of players that can 
number in the hundreds, lay siege to each other's castles for hours at a 
time, on fat broadband connections that allow the battles to play out in 
smooth resolution, in their full glory." Much of this gaming is done in 
Korea's 26,000 game parlors, known as "baangs."

Lineage isn't popular with Americans, notes Herz, "partly because it's a 
game where not everyone can be the boss." Koreans like a "tightly defined 
clan hierarchy," she observes, whereas in American role-playing games, it 
often seems that "everyone is the Lone Ranger."

Among the popular American equivalents to Lineage are Everquest and Ultima 
Online. Everquest, a massively multiplayer online world created by Sony, 
can host 350,000 players, with more than 100,000 playing simultaneously. 
Sony charges each player $10 a month to join this online world, where the 
games can last for months.

Next year a massive online game called Star Wars Galaxies is scheduled to 
be released by Verant and LucasArts. It could attract more than a million 
subscribers and have 300,000 simultaneous users, according to Herz. It 
might take months for players to traverse hyperspace, she says, and they 
will have to create "a full-fledged economic and political system."

Herz explains that "as a design and engineering challenge, in sheer scale 
and complexity Star Wars Galaxies rivals the construction of a space station."

What makes these massive online games fascinating -- in addition to their 
"human anthill" quality -- is that they may provide new insights into 
what's known as "network-centric warfare."

Defense intellectuals such as Linton Wells II, a deputy assistant secretary 
of defense who is responsible for command, control, communications and 
intelligence, believe that the Pentagon must realign itself for 
"network-centric" operations. In their view, adversaries such as bin 
Laden's al Qaeda group are really networks -- highly dispersed units that 
have the same loose but robust structure as the nodes of a computer network.

The intellectual groundwork for this "netwar" analysis was laid out in a 
paper published on the Internet in October 2001 by two Rand Corp. analysts, 
David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla. "It takes networks to fight networks," 
they argued. But it has been difficult to imagine what these anti-network 
networks might look like.

That's why the massive online games are so intriguing. The ability to 
connect many hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously opens the 
possibility for sharing information, tasking both combatants and civilian 
rescue workers, and "pulsing" adversaries with diffuse but well-coordinated 

Herz, who is the author of a recent book titled "Joystick Nation," notes 
that computer games have the same roots as military simulations. The 
difference is that computer gaming took off -- with many thousands of 
programmers helping refine the software -- especially after the Internet 
made communication and file sharing easy. PC gaming also developed its own 
intricate social structure -- through chat rooms, Web sites, rankings and 
other means of instant communication among the user network.

The civilian PC war games are now much more complex and sophisticated than 
their Pentagon predecessors -- and, at the very least, online gaming could 
help make military games more realistic.

But the challenging idea is that the online gaming world could provide 
models for much more advanced ways of responding to threats. It could 
create real-time networks for a kind of command and control that has never 
been attempted. The peer-to-peer connections of the online world could also 
break down some of the time-wasting and bureaucratic hierarchies that 
continue to obstruct military planning and operations.

Bin Laden and his allies certainly aren't playing a game. But it's just 
possible that online gaming could provide some fresh insights into 
combating and ultimately containing this terrorist threat.

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