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 "bullshit jobs" in the narrowest sense: busy work that produces no social benefit and yet is performed obligatorily, symbolising 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.

Cast & Crew

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

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

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

Cinematography: Leonhard Müllner, Michael Stumpf, Susanna Flock, Robin Klengel

Editing: Susanna Flock, Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner, Michael Stumpf

Original Score: Adrian Haim

Sound: Bernhard Zorzi

Nominations and Awards

  • European Short Film 2023
  • Short Film Candidates 2023