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Video game nation: Why so many play

A journey through the world of video games, which 183 million Americans play – 25 percent over age 50. What's behind the fascination?

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A conventiongoer and the 'Dark Void' character at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles. This is the cover story in the March 19 weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Danny Moloshok/File/REUTERS

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We see it.

Gliding through the sky, long neck undulating, great, ridged wings beating, the dragon looks ... beautiful. Until it lands.

Thumbs working the controller, Matt Fries, a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C., throws fireballs at it with both hands. The dragon lifts off, and lands again. It belches out a stream of yellow and orange flame.

"He's done a lot of damage," Mr. Fries mutters. But it's early in the game.

As in video game. Sitting in his tiny Washington apartment, Fries is doing what millions – actually, 10 million – have done over the last few months: fighting dragons in the celebrated new game Skyrim.

Since its November release, Skyrim has won award after award and led reviewers to call it the "greatest role-playing video game ever made." In its first month, it made $650 million, almost double the entire year's gross in the United States for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the bestselling movie of 2011.

Gamers know this. Why don't you?

C'mon. You don't. One surprising thing about the video game industry is that while adults play – in fact, 25 percent of players are over age 50 – most are unaware of how prevalent it has become in American culture.

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