You'd be hard-pressed to catch Kevin Bonds, a telecommunications worker who lives in Prince George's County, without some kind of video game in reach at just about any hour of the day.
"If I go shopping with my wife and she's shopping for dresses, I find a chair and get my game on," he said. "If she takes me to a party, I take a game with me. It goes without saying."
Don't hate the player, hate the Game Boy. The pocket-sized gadget has sold billions of dollars worth of hardware and software worldwide. To show for that success, Nintendo's Game Boy now has a growing list of imitators, and game designers are turning their skills to other types of devices, such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants.
There's Nokia N-Gage, a cell phone designed for playing games. There's Sony's PlayStation Portable, launched last year, which also plays digital music files and movies. In October, a new device called Gizmondo will meld all those digital entertainment options and throw in Global Positioning System technology to boot. Even Nintendo is looking for more ways to hit the portable gaming market, with a new Game Boy Micro due out this fall -- a smaller version of its iconic device, barely bigger than a couple of matchboxes stuck together.
Despite the growing number of game gadgets, the biggest new frontier for portable games may be the cell phone. According to research firm IDC, cell phone games took in $345 million worldwide in 2004 and are set to make $590 million in sales this year.
Compared with the $7 billion game industry as a whole, that's still a "fairly small niche market," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, a trade group. But he said the market is poised to take off as more advanced handsets reach consumers.
The market for on-the-go gaming breaks down neatly into demographic categories, according to IDC analyst Schelley Olhava. Younger players tend to gravitate toward the Game Boy, 18-to-34-year-old guys reach for Sony's PlayStation Portable, and the cell phone market has more adult women fans.
Mary Sue Twohy, Washington area folk singer, hardly fits the profile of the typical video game addict, but she said she has gotten hooked on a puzzle game called Bejeweled that's playable on a Treo smartphone.
"I didn't play video games for years," she said. Now she plays when she's waiting in line at the theater, the grocery store and at restaurants. She has hooked her friends as well -- one now goes by the nickname "Be-Julie."
Alas, Twohy's Treo 300 recently took an unscheduled trip through the washing machine and she's now in the process of shopping for a new phone. Her next one "needs to be a Palm Pilot, it needs to have e-mail and Bejeweled -- and of course it has to be a phone," she chuckled.
Right now, the type of games that do well on handheld gadgets tend to be short puzzle games like Bejeweled. But with a new version of the massive time-waster game Grand Theft Auto on the way to the Sony PlayStation Portable, a change may be in the works.
Todd Howard, executive producer at Bethesda Softworks Inc., a video game developer in Rockville, said the difference between handheld and console games is starting to blur. Say you're playing a game on a PlayStation at home and you have to go on a trip -- one day soon, you'll be able to hit a button and continue playing a slightly less graphically slick version on Sony's handheld system while on the road.
But some people don't even have to leave the house to get use out of their portable game systems. Bonds, for example, said it's nice to have a Game Boy around for backup, when his son is hogging the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox.
Though he has to carry a BlackBerry for work, he's sort of glad the portable e-mail gadget doesn't come with games that interest him. If it did, he said, "I wouldn't get any work done."
At the Super Bowl: The Philadelphia Eagles' Sam Rayburn plays his Game Boy on Media Day before the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., in February.
Backstage: A model plays a Game Boy at the Tuleh spring 2005 show during Olympus Fashion Week in New York in September 2004.