A new study finds that half of the active video gamers in the US play online and that over half of them are women.

Video game players are overwhelmingly young teenage boys, solitary nerds, hunkered down over their joysticks, locked away in dark rooms far from the real world. Right?

Not according to "The Active Gamer 2006 Report" released by Nielsen//NetRatings.

Confounding the stereotypes, the report shows that among the 117 million active gamers in the US (defined as consumers over the age of 13 who play games at least one hour a week), not only are the social elements of video games increasingly important, with more than half of them (56%) playing online, but also 64% of all online gamers are women.

Playing together — with girls — it is a whole new gaming world out there.

Led by teenagers who are socially involved in game playing about seven hours a week, the study found that most gamers now spend upward of five hours a week playing games socially.

And, even though men still outnumber women in the overall video game universe by more than two to one, women now make up nearly two-thirds of all online gamers.

In addition, the research found that although teenagers account for the largest percentage (40%) of active gamers, more than 15 million of them (13%) are now 45 years or older.

"The expansion of next generation hardware and technology in the marketplace is simultaneously delivering new ecosystems of social exchange, interactive entertainment, media experiences and advertising models," said Emily Della Maggiora of Nielsen. "We see how important online gaming is in terms of connecting people and bringing communities of gamers together. [It] has the power to unite gamers across the street and/or around the world."

During the past six months, on average active gamers purchased four games. Of those, 90% were bought in retail stores, with the remaining 10% purchased online.

On average, active gamers spend 47 hours playing each individual game they purchase. They spend an average of $16 a month on video games, and usually spend about a quarter of their weekly leisure time (13 out of 55.3 hours) playing video games.

More here.