Total Refusal - Digital Disarmament Movement is a collective comprising Austrian artists Leonhard Müllner, Robin Klengel and Michael Stumpf funded in 2018 which promotes a subversively pacifist approach to violent video games. The trifecta operates as an "ideological antidote, unveiling the regressive characteristics of contemporary gaming media and reopening them as playgrounds for practicing creative disobedience and dissent." As they write,
The vast majority of contemporary video games is characterized by combative gameplay. This seems especially remarkable now that video games have long arrived in the entertainment mainstream and have managed to drop the boy’s room stigmata. With gaming becoming both commercially and culturally more and more relevant, the question arises how artists can modify and make use of this media for their own purposes. In “Total Refusal”, artists Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner and Michael Stumpf aim to peacefully appropriate the existing mechanics of digital gaming media in order to find new use for their virtual combat zones. As such, “Total Refusal” is a pacifistic statement, realized in digital space.
Circumventing the Circle of Death is a performance - hereby documented as a machinima piece - in which the artists highlight the absurd behavior of some computer game algorithms. In this case, by keeping two armies of a real-time strategy game in constant motion so that they do not come in "frontal view" with each other and thus begin an armed confrontation, the game becomes something else, that is, a virtual dance (and potentially interminable) between two factions. We hear the soldiers shouting menacingly at each other, and yet shots are not fired. Destruction is replaced by distraction. Inspired by the tactics of the International Situationists, the artists sabotaged the game without tempering with the code: gameplay is subverted by exploiting the algorithm's "blindness". And yet, the almost comical dance is no less absurd that the urge to destroy and annihilate. If anything, the former produces sweat, while the latter blood.
Total Refusal - Digital Disarmament Movement has produced several other performances, installations, and video pieces including Landscape for a Battle Panorama (64 Soldiers hiding from the Player), Sculptering a Peace Model, Operation Jane Walk, and the upcoming How to Disappear.
Leonhard Müllner, Robin Klengel and Michael Stumpf, Circumventing the Circle of Death, 2018, installation view.
LINK: Leonhard Müllner