Hardly Working sheds a limelight on the very characters that normally remain in the background of video games: NPCs. They are non-player characters that populate the digital world as extras to create the appearance of normality. A laundress, a stable boy, a street sweeper and a carpenter are observed with ethnographic precision. They are Sisyphus machines, whose labour routines, activity patterns as well as bugs and malfunctions paint a vivid analogy for work under capitalism.

Director's Statement

Do we, the NPCs of a political economy that controls, exploits and alienates us, have the possibility to rebel against the absurdity of our activities?

Hardly Working is a film essay on the question of work in the digital age. It makes use of the mainstream video game Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most successful Western action games in video game history. By observing the scenery, the film humorously reflects on the question of work and the construction of normality in the era of late stage capitalism.

The starting point for Hardly Working was a kind of work ethnography, in which we carefully observed, recorded and discussed the routines and the everyday working life of the NPCs – Non-Playable Characters – in the game. NPCs are the multitude of animated characters, who populate architectures, cities and worlds and simulate liveliness. Their rhythm of life is structured by looped activities, which they exercise tirelessly and repetitively to infinity.
NPCs perform "bull shit jobs" in the narrowest sense: busy work that produces no social benefit and yet is performed obligatorily, symbolizing the maintenance of a social order based on the merit principle.

Hardly Working is about the NPC as "Animal laborans" (Hannah Arendt), as a working individual, whose work does not change the status quo, but in fact strengthens it. In the figure of the NPC, the image of the subject trapped in the work process is even exaggerated as no function is provided to ever complete the work. Activities such as sweeping a floor or sinking nails into wood become an endless and inconclusive performance. NPCs are Sisyphean machines, programmed to get stuck in the routines of everyday life without results. Whenever their algorithm shows inconsistencies, the NPCs break out of the logic of total normality, display their own flawedness – and seem touchingly human in the process.

Director's Biography

Susanna Flock lives and works in Vienna as a visual/media artist. She graduated at the University of Art and Design Linz (2015) and at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (2017), Austria. Flock works in the field of video and video installation and focuses on internet phenomena. Recently, she was awarded with the Pixel, Bytes and Film residency (2020), Viktor-Fogarassy-Price (2019), the Rote Fabrik residency Zurich (2019), start-scholarship for media arts Austria (2018) and with a fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude (2018). Joined Total Refusal in 2020.

Robin Klengel lives and works as an artist and cultural anthropologist in Vienna and Graz. He researches, writes texts, gives lectures and courses and makes films in the field of artistic-scientific research of urban and digital spaces. He studied cultural anthropology in Graz and Berlin. Since 2021 he is co-chairman of the interdisciplinary art and culture space Forum Stadtpark in Graz. He co-founded the collective in 2018.

Leonhard Müllner lives and works in Vienna as a visual artist and media researcher. He studied Visual- and Media Art in Linz, Leipzig and Vienna and is currently a PHD candidate in Media Studies with Helmut Lethen at MKKD Linz. He co-founded the collective in 2018.

Michael Stumpf studied Philosophy in Vienna as well as Media Culture and Art Theories in Linz (unfinished). His research interlaces a background in phenomenology with media and culture semiotics, analyzing the relevance and operating mode of popular cultural tropes. He works as an artist, designer and coder. Stumpf co-founded the collective in 2018.

2020 - HOW TO DISAPPEAR, Documentary

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Susanna Flock, Leonhard Müllner, Robin Klengel, Michael Stumpf

Original Score: Adrian Haim

Sound: Bernhard Zorzi

Nominations and Awards

  • Short Film Candidates 2023