GSFF Review: How To Disappear

GSFF Review: How To Disappear

How to Disappear, by Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner & Michael Stumpf, tries to push the boundaries of the first-person shooter video game Battlefield.

Whilst calmly musing on the history of desertion in war, the players learn that it is impossible to desert the battlefield. If the player persists in their desertion attempts, they receive two warnings: One visible and one audible, followed by execution.

In Battlefield there is simply nothing beyond the perimeter of the conflict zone. A little like Truman discovering the edge of his world. 



Battlefield, they say, is ‘A game that makes war consumable’. The filmmakers suggest that war cannot be ‘played’, because games are voluntary and war is not. But we say that wars are ‘waged’ and I’d go so far as to say that wars are consumable, just not by the soldiers. 

War games are a type of propaganda. They affirm that you, with your poor posture and dangerously low levels of vitamin D, You have what it takes. Alarmingly, with drone warfare, this may well be true.

George W Bush was a fan of either/or statements: You’re either with us or against us, and we’ve gone a long way down that road. The binary nature of the game may be a comfort to some. Perimeter: On; Friendly Fire: Off. And it’s interesting to note that the only indestructible object within the game is the flag. Flags are sacrosanct, which tells us a lot about the game’s target audience, and the lines that game developers choose not to cross.

Müllner and co. are not the first people to play video games in unintended ways. Take for example Tim drowning Lara Croft after a run-in with his ex 

More recently Blindboy has been using Red Dead Redemption as a venue for songwriting 

This film wants to explore how to play a new game within the constraints of the game’s structure. Games like GTA allow for a certain amount of goofing around, but is it more fun to try this when the game doesn’t encourage it?

This kind of experiment is art, but what kind of art? It feels a lot like Dadaism: 

Developed in response to the horrors of WW1 the dada movement rejected reason, rationality, and order of the emerging capitalist society, instead favoring chaos, nonsense, and anti-bourgeois sentiment. (Read more…)

The constraints of the game are thoroughly explored and only after this can the players learn how to circumvent them. In this way it is similar to the Ouxpo groups. Oujeupo perhaps?

In their earlier film, Operation Jane Walk (also at GSFF as part of their Urban Palimpsests programme) the filmmakers play with the idea of using videogame landscapes for guided tours. This short can be viewed here, and it’s worth pairing with this early colour film which is also a tour of New York.  

How To Disappear is a video essay, a game within a game, and a piece of performance art. Like Dadaism, it is an absurd response to the absurdity of war. And like Ouxpo, one must know the rules in order to break them.

How to Disappear was shown at Glasgow Short Film Festival 2020

Glasgow Short Film Festival, the largest competitive short film festival in Scotland, champions new film talent by providing an annual showcase and meeting point for new and established Scottish and international filmmakers, industry delegates and the local audience. Our programme celebrates diverse forms of cinematic expression, whether fiction, documentary, animation or artists’ moving image, and foregrounds disruptive, ground-breaking work that transgresses the boundaries of conventional narrative film.


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Esme Betamax is a writer and illustrator. Often found in the Cube Microplex. Favourites include: I ♡ Huckabees, Where the Buffalo Roam, Harold & Maude, Being John Malkovich and In the Shadow of the Moon.

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