Goethe-Institut New York will present Total Refusal in what will be their first exhibition in New York City. Total Refusal is a filmmaking collective from Austria, established in 2018, who engage with the medium of video games, focusing on diverse aspects of games such as NPCs and how their presence and programmed routines reflect real societal interactions and economic relations. By upcycling figures and motifs from well-known games, these self-styled “pseudo-Marxist media guerillas” seek to reveal the real political apparatus that underlies the gaming world.

Non-playable characters or NPCs often serve as a backdrop in video game environments, populating the digital world to give it an appearance of normality, and providing an immersive experience to gamers with a variety of quests and tasks that give this artificial digital construct a semblance of life. NPCs are frequently the subjects of memes, either because of the repetitiveness with which they execute their routine or because of the bugs which are a common feature of such vast hyperreal simulated worlds.

Hardly Working (2022) explores the daily lives of NPCs in the 2018 Western game Red Dead Redemption 2. The monotonous drudgery that the NPCs engage in becomes a metaphor for the lives of workers under a capitalist system, punctuated by the occasional bug that reveals the humanity of these characters.

In Operation Jane Walk (2018), the collective takes us on a deep dive into Tom Clancy's: The Division, an online-only dystopian multiplayer game that is set in a world which has been ravaged by a deadly pandemic and devastated by war. Instead of participating in the militaristic engagements that are a hallmark of this environment, the collective guides viewers on an interactive and peaceful tour of the war-torn landscape of Midtown Manhattan, avoiding combat with the other players, which subverts the nominal premise of the game.

Total Refusal has participated in over 250 film festivals since its inception, most notably at Berlinale, Doc Fortnight at MoMA, Locarno Film Festival, and has received more than 50 awards and honorary mentions. The exhibition opens on March 14 at Goethe-Institut New York and runs until April 25. The show was curated by Zachary B. Feldman with the assistance of Olivia Al-Slaiman. For more on Total Refusal and this event, check the respective sites here and here.

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