Hallie Gordon: What was your initial impression of Leveling Up? Clancy McCartney: From the first read, I really liked it because I have never read or seen something that addresses videogame culture in this way, particularly by talking about not only the appeal of games, but some of the problems that arise from them. There is a lot of stigma surrounding videogames and this play speaks to that. HG: What is that stigma about? CM: Videogames and gamers represent a world a lot of people don’t understand so they see it as entirely negative, which I don’t think is deserved. Videogames can be a good thing. In videogames, there’s a problem that needs to be solved, there’s cognitive thought involved, there’s a requirement for an intense amount of focus. Plus, some videogames have really wonderful characters and rich story lines. My favorite videogame, Final Fantasy X, involves moving through a beautiful, colorful, complex world in which you explore themes of friendship, religion, love and sacrifice. There’s a lot to be gained and learned from these sorts of games. HG: What was your first experience playing videogames? CM: In grammar school, my mom was a single mom who always had to work until 5pm. So, every day, I went to an after-school program for several hours where they had a small TV in the corner with an original Nintendo. There was a sign-up sheet where you could put your name down to play for 10-15 minutes. I began to love gaming. At one point, I remember finding a magazine, Nintendo Power, which previewed all the new games and systems that were coming out. I would look through Nintendo Power and cut out pictures from upcoming games to post on my wall and think about how cool it all seemed. HG: What made you keep gaming? CM: I was never good at sports. I was asthmatic. I was smaller than other kids. I didn’t like physical aggression… and so with sports and physical games, I could never win. But with videogames, I could. I could compete and win and be around other people and have fun with something that didn’t require physical effort. HG: How do you connect to your character, Ian? CM: High school was a tough time for me and games provided an escape. I liked games because I could enter a world that I liked better than the one I was living in at the time. In Ian, I can see clearly that he has done the same thing. He also plays games to escape. But, for me, playing games as much as I did made it hard to interact with people socially. I began to be stigmatized. So while I connect to Ian, the difference between us is that, unlike Ian, there was a point in my life when I realized the amount of gaming I was doing wasn’t healthy and I stopped. In our play we see that Ian hasn’t stopped, he hasn’t gotten out. HG: With videogames, like acting, when you play you become another character. Was that part of the draw for you? CM: Always. I was very drawn to the idea of living in another world or realm. For a teenager, the world you live in can seem terrible and unappealing. And then with games, you have a magical world in front of you that you want to dive into. But, once I started going out in the real world and facing my fears, I started to change my perspective on life. I started to realize what a wonderful, amazing, beautiful place this world actually is and I began to see real life as better than any videogame. HG: In the play, your character, Ian, is recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA) to fly unmanned drones. Does he realize the full extent of what heis doing? CM: If he does, he’s burying it away pretty thoroughly. Ian is challenged by his friends to move away from videogames and out into the world, to get a real job. But that’s terrifying to him. So when he has an opportunity to get a job that relates to what he feels safe and secure doing [gaming], he is quick to shut down any voice of opposition, because he sees this job as his only option. And plus, and I’m sure others can relate to this, it’s impressive to be that good at something, no matter what it is. To be recruited by the US military, for them to come to him, it proves that all his gaming, everything he has done to this point, is not a waste. I can relate to that because when I gave up videogames, I felt I was throwing hours of my life down a well. After so much gaming, you don’t want to feel like you’ve spent all that time for nothing. HG: We are doing this play primarily for high school students. What do you hope they get from seeing it? CM: I hope everyone can relate to the play in some way. One thing I believe everyone can connect to is in the title, Leveling Up: the idea of constantly leveling up in life, of increasing your power or getting more money or being promoted or gaining more responsibility. Everyone can relate to wanting that. I also hope people will be able to relate to Ian and all the characters in this play. This is a story about a group of young people struggling to find themselves in the world. They have fears that are holding them back from moving forward and growing up but, for the most part, they all want to level up. To me, the play says, “Don’t let certain things become crutches and escapes for you so that you don’t go out and live in the world.” I hope people get that. HG: I can’t wait to start rehearsing in a few weeks. CM: Me either. I’m excited to dive in.