As part of my occasional series on childhood influences on current careers I spoke to Simon Moody, Research Curator at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch, about how his youthful interests in war gaming, video gaming and researching at libraries has fed into his career as an archivist. Originally an archaeologist, Simon has also worked in the archives of the RAF Museum, Hendon and National Army Museum, Chelsea. He is the co-author of Under the Devil’s Eye: the British military experience in Macedonia 1915-18.
How have your childhood interests fed into your career?
Being interested in military stuff, modelling (I wasn’t good at that!) and war gaming often led me to the library. It is ironical that an opportunity to work in a military collection arose when I was seemingly leading towards a career in built-heritage. I was able to use all the stuff I had absorbed as a kid and turn a hobby into a career. I could also understand what some researchers in their area needed.
A lot of museums and curators (including military ones) view modelling, war-gaming and other military hobbies as geeky and in terms of enquiries, a bit onerous to answer. I don’t have any time for this. The reality is that these people are customers, and want to get things right in terms of accuracy, just as an academic wants to get their facts right in a paper or book. Finding something cool for someone is great as an archivist, regardless of the subject.
You’ve talked to me before about biking to the library as a child to borrow books. How important were / are libraries to you?
The library was the centre of the universe. There was no internet. TV and books were all that I could use to develop interests as diverse as deep sea life, aeroplanes in World War One and Two and the Napoleonic Wars. I liked looking through and deciding what to research and collect and paint. Now, you can often just click and another enthusiast has done the work for you. There is less of a sense of a discovery. Now I run a specialist library, I get a great kick out of ordering a newly published book, cataloguing it and hopefully seeing someone use it.
Can war gaming add to your subject knowledge?
Very much so. You understand more about why things happened the way they did and also how bad decisions can affect history. That is why it is still used in training officers etc today. The research part is important too, whether it is the correct flags, uniforms or numbers involved. Reading a lot of military history and researching new engagements to simulate as battles is also good for research skills.
Do video games help or hinder our understanding of conflict?
Sometimes. Many are first-person shooters and intrinsically unrealistic. They are designed to be experiential and atmospheric (Medal of Honor, for example) but of course you can take multiple bullets and grenade wounds and just instantly apply a medical pack and off you go again. Strategic games are a bit better, as are simulators (eg Sturmovik). Others like World of Tanks*, sit in the middle. Nice to look at but ignoring the reality that one hit often knocked out tanks in World War Two killing the crew in an horrific way. So, yes, I think in some ways they do hinder our understanding of the reality of conflict. There is something a bit more elegant about two armies of 18th Century colourful figurines on a table of terrain manoeuvring to defeat one another like chess. But then again, the reality is that these elegantly dressed men in wigs and stockings were being sliced up, blown apart and clubbed to death with musket butts. So perhaps it works both ways. The terrible and ever-changing reality of war is suspended whatever you do.
Let me know if you want to talk about how your childhood interests have shaped your current career - @katbhave