Pamela Borgos recently moved from Tacoma to Lakewood, Wash., where she knows few people. But the move doesn't worry this nursing assistant who lives by herself. She says she has a community that transcends the bricks and mortar of a new town.
Ms. Borgos is part of one of the fastest growing groups on the Internet: adult women who play cyber versions of familiar games such as gin and cribbage. She says this community gives her a rich social life.
"You 'meet' a lot of fascinating people from all over the world," she says.
Women age 40 and older, when they go online, spend a longer time playing games than men or teenagers do. Cyber games are replacing TV, books, films, or exercise for 44 percent of these women, according to a recent survey by AOL Games/Digital Marketing Services.
Industry pundits cite the growing number of women in games as evidence that the industry itself is coming of age. Ten years ago, "the core gaming market was teenage boys," says Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association. Today, he says, "the average age of gamers is 29, the core demographic is 18 to 35, and a third of game players are women."
This shift reflects major changes in the videogame landscape. Primary among them: a generation of computer-literate players has now come of age. Many of these are women who have never played the violent, complex, time-consuming, and expensive games that have evolved primarily for the three major consoles: Playstation, GameCube, and Xbox. But they understand computers and traditional games. As broadband connections have made games faster and easier to play, researchers say these often free, simple, online versions of traditional card and board games appeal to women with limited time but a desire to socialize. They are to the current generation what the phone was to women of the past.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that video games are a part of our cultural fabric," says Jason Della Rocca, program director for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). "Where your mom and her girlfriends would agree to meet at someone's house to play bridge, you and your girlfriends agree to meet online and play bridge over the Internet."
This social component is vital for many women, says Ms. Borgos, who has one adult son and two grandchildren. She adds that this online world can yield true friends, not just the casual contacts of a chat room. Borgos tells a story of the woman she calls her salvation, an online game player who gave her a new lease on life. "She's my guardian angel," says Borgos.
The two met during a game of Jungle Gin on the Club Pogo website, one of the Web's biggest online game sites. "We were talking via the game chat about work," says Borgos, who adds that her job has irregular hours, low pay, and no sick days or vacation benefits. "This woman, I'll call her Marcie, started talking to me about if I'd thought about going back to school and what I would do if I could." Borgos told Marcie that she'd be interested in learning about medical billing, but didn't know how she'd pay tuition.
"She said she'd pay," says Borgos, who was initially too surprised to take the offer seriously. But she eventually decided to take Marcie at her word and now has two semesters under her belt.
Researchers in the still-young discipline of interactive entertainment say such games will attract more players in an era of far-flung families. "The way Americans are all over the map, the online game world facilitates …