the stereotype of video gaming as the domain of teenage boys, an industry group reported on Tuesday that more adult women than young boys are playing games. Not only that, but the average age of players has risen to 29.

A poll released by the Entertainment Software Association and conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that 26 percent of game players are women 18 or older, while 21 percent are boys 6 to 17.

Video gaming traditionally has been seen as the province of teen boys locked in dark rooms, twitching away at game consoles. In recent years, however, the industry has worked to publish games catering to kids, women and older gamers.

In line with that trend, adults over 50 now make up 17 percent of the gaming population, the ESA said, compared with 13 percent three years ago.

The largest group of gamers, at 38 percent, is comprised of men 18 and up, while girls 6 to 17 account for 12 percent of game players, the poll found.

“I think that what used to be the standard in games, which was the female character in distress and the big macho man saving the day, is no longer the case,” said Vikki Hrody, an Illinois Institute of Art faculty member who teaches art for game design.

“I do see a lot more girls, especially the students that I’m teaching, that want to play games,” she said.

A random national sample of 806 adults, covering a total of 1,048 game players including kids, was used in the poll, according to the ESA.

The average gamer spends 6.5 hours a week playing games, the ESA said, while boys 6 to 17 average over 7 hours of game time per week.

As the age of gamers has risen, so has the number of games for adults. Of all games sold in 2002, the ESA said over 13 percent carried a “Mature” or “M” rating, up from about 10 percent in 2001.

Hrody said she and her friends much prefer many of those mature games, like war titles, to the games specially designed and targeted by game companies at the female market, such as dancing themes or Barbie.

“They don’t hear enough about what the market is. I think they just assume that it’s boys that are playing these games,” she said. “(Girls’ games are) very boring, there’s no story line, it’s almost like they play it down for girls.”

The poll found little difference in the relationship between game play and income, with 39 percent of gamers reporting total household income of less than $50,000 a year and 41 percent reporting an income of more than $50,000.

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