In the fantasy world of video games, the deaths are only on screen. But when using some of the same technology in the real world of drones and missiles, online battles have real consequences.

That’s one of the lessons hardcore gamers face in Leveling Up, the next production of UCF Theatre to be presented Jan. 16-26 in the Black Box Theatre.

Leveling Up is a contemporary look at 20something roommates two years out of college who practically live in their basement, spending most of their time playing video games.

But when the National Security Agency hires one of the players to use his skills to launch actual remote military attacks, relationships change as the roommates straddle the fuzzy line between virtual and real worlds, and what it means to make difficult choices while growing up.

Leveling Up speaks very specifically to a young audience. The play transcends being only for them and is quite universal, but it resonates very strongly with a generation that has grown up playing extremely realistic video games,” said director Mark Routhier. “Fantasy vs. reality is the thematic undercurrent. And with social media and texting and facetiming, etc., becoming more and more prevalent in today’s culture, how do young people navigate these two worlds? Leveling Up explores these questions in an extremely compelling way.”

The play debuted nationally early this year. Routhier, an assistant professor of directing and acting at UCF, said he came across the script by playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer when it was read at the National New Play Network’s annual showcase of new works. Routhier also is director of new play development at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, a partnership with the university.

The term “leveling up” applies to a player who earns enough experience or points to reach a new level of the game. The higher level often brings the ability to use new weapons, access new places or take on new assignments.

Routhier said he doesn’t spend much time playing video games himself, but understands how addictive and prevalent they can be for gamers, like those in the play.

“It is when they feel the most connected, the most powerful, and ironically, the most peaceful,” he said. “Things in the play happen to change that.”

Student actor Patrick Sylvester’s character, Ian – the Nevada state video-game champion hired by the NSA – said he thinks audiences who come to Leveling Up will learn just what kind of psychological damage evolves from being too consumed by the virtual world and how important it can be to connect with people without having to hide behind a screen.

“When one becomes too desensitized from the physical world, our perceptions of reality can become altered and warped and change how we behave and act to those who actually care about us,” said Sylvester, a junior with a double major in theatre performance and English literature.

“There’s also a level of understanding that each of these characters needs to just not only be honest with those around them about what is going on, but also being honest with themselves and knowing what exactly it is that they need to do to get their lives in order.”

Sylvester said his character fulfills his life by spending it on the screen, recluse to those around him and separated emotionally, although desperately wishing he could connect with people better.

Routhier said the play offers up several moral lessons about lying, trust and jealousy.

“Ultimately we learn that we are frail and fantastic creatures and we are the sum of the decision we make,” he said.


Production at a glance

Leveling Up

Written By Deborah Zoe Laufer

Directed by Mark Routhier

(This production contains profanity.)


8 p.m. Jan. 16-18 and Jan. 23-25

2 p.m. Jan. 19 and 26


Theatre UCF’s Black Box Theatre


Price: Standard $20, Senior $18, Student $10; group discounts available

Box Office Phone: 407- 823-1500

Box Office Hours: Monday through Friday: noon to 6 p.m. and two hours before performances