Video games are part of everyday life for US students, but racing virtual cars or blasting aliens does not detract from their studies, says a report.
Games seen as a break from studies
About a two-thirds of college students play video games, found a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project think-tank.
But the image of gamers as loners with little or no social skills is way off the mark, say researchers.
Instead, they found that gaming was a way to spend time with friends and that women, as well as men, were avid game players.
For the study, Pew Internet researchers questioned just over a thousand college students from 27 campuses across the US.
They found that playing computer and video games was commonplace among the young adults.
'Fun and leisure'
All of those who took part in the survey said they had played games at one time or another, with two-thirds saying they were regular or occasional players.
"In some ways electronic games are to this generation what cops 'n' robbers was to an earlier one; everyone plays them, everyone knows them," said Professor Steve Jones, principal author of the report.
A generation has grown up with games like Space Invaders
"They are almost an automatic part of what teenagers and college students do for fun and leisure."
And playing games was not harming their career prospects. The study habits of those who spent time on games consoles closely matched those of college students in general.
According to the students themselves, gaming has little impact on their studies.
Two-thirds said that playing games had no influence on their academic performance, even though some admitted that gaming did, at times, keep them from their work.
Often, says the report, students would take short breaks from their studies to play games or use it as a brief distraction from writing a paper.
Play with friends
For many, gaming was a social activity, with the researchers noticing that groups of students would often stop to watch a game.
"As gaming devices incorporate networked gaming into their machines and games, I think we'll see a rather large jump in the number of people who will start up a game as much to be with their friends," said Prof Jones.
"In some ways the line between playing an online game and socialising is likely to become blurred. The game may well be a form of socialising."
Surprisingly, the survey counters the belief that video games are just for boys. Two-thirds of women said they played online and computer software-based games, compared with 40% of men.
But there was a difference between the sexes in their approach. Men actively set aside time for gaming, while women did it because they were bored or did not have anything else to do.
The study seems to suggest that video gaming is part of the mainstream for a generation who grew up with Pong and Space Invaders.
Gaming has enjoyed a boom in recent years. The gaming industry reported sales of more than $6.5bn in 2002 and revenues from online gaming alone are estimated to reach $2.9bn by 2005.