The Kids Are All Right

Boys play Nintendo GameBoy
If you have a teenager, chances are he or she plays video games. And given the amount of social worry, even paranoia, about gaming, there are a lot of worried parents.

The simple fact is that, for many, gaming carries a stigma that likens it to hardcore pornography and cigarette smoking; video games are habit-forming and unhealthy.

But it can be hard to find a teenager who has never played a video game. What's so unusual about this entertainment phenomenon is how an activity so ubiquitous can also be so stigmatized.

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Politicians with the help of a sometimes-alarmist mainstream media have done their fair share of fear mongering when it comes to gaming. Many adults are not knowledgeable about video games, and they're not something grownups can relate to from their own childhoods. That's a recipe for misunderstanding.

But one thing is absolutely clear: Kids are gaming - big time.

The video game industry is boasting record software sales. According to the Entertainment Software Association, also known as the ESA, approximately 31 percent of gamers are teens.

So what exactly are teenagers doing when they play these mysterious video games? That depends in part on what kind of gaming you're talking about.

There are two types of gaming: hardcore and casual. A casual game is generally regarded as a video game that requires little time commitment, no special skills from the user and comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Essentially, a casual game is something one can start and stop playing in a span of minutes.

Teens play casual games mostly in short stints - during breaks in school or on public transportation. Casual games are designed to be short, simple and mobile. Thus they are usually played on cell phones or Web browsers such as Internet Explorer. Moreover, casual games do not require any special hardware purchases.

A hardcore game, on the other hand, is one that is played on store-bought console systems or a PC. It requires hours rather than minutes to play.

Gaming is a cultural phenomenon that has vastly affected the electronic entertainment world of teens. It is the process by which a player directly interacts with a virtual world through the use of handheld controls. Gaming can be extremely challenging: Good gamers must possess strong analytical ability as well as flexibility and adaptability.

Gaming has what experts call a high "immersion capability" - it's easy to get deeply into games. That is both one of their great attractions and one of the reasons many look their nose down on games and the people who play them.