If you think video games are just kids' stuff, you'd better change your thinking -- and fast. There's more and more reason to believe gaming is becoming an important entertainment option, reminiscent of the growth of popular, now accepted, pastimes such as television and movies. Video games, however, may be even more powerful -- users aren't passively consuming an experience, for a change; they're part of it.

The trends have been growing for quite some time (in fact, I wrote about the growing market for video games last year). Meanwhile, comScore Media Metrix recently released some fascinating data about the growing circle of gamers.

According to comScore's recent data, on average, gamers are a mature 41 years old with a respectable income of $55,000 a year. They are increasingly female -- 52% of the gaming audience consists of women. Your run-of-the-mill gamer has been online for nine years, and the majority (84%) have high-speed Internet service at home.

You probably know where I'm going with this. Are there hefty potential returns in the video game space? Of course there are.

Games are serious business
David Gardner has been preaching the idea that video games are on the cusp of reaching a vastly greater audience for quite some time now. Indeed, one of the big names in video game publishing, Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS), was the second-ever recommendation for Motley Fool Stock Advisor back in May 2002 (and has been re-recommended twice due to its bright future in the industry). Investors who bought Electronic Arts on his first recommendation have enjoyed an 80% return since.

The comScore report pointed out another interesting element that should bolster the fortunes of game publishers -- that opportunities for marketing in some of these virtual worlds are bound to increase as well. In fact, many diehard gamers seem to think that advertising makes games more realistic. (Think what you will what that says about our world -- the bottom line is that it does imply there is great opportunity for increased revenues for the most popular games.)

At the moment, many video game publishers are enjoying investor optimism because there are a few important catalysts coming up for this industry (which can be somewhat cyclical, depending on console upgrades). Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) released its next-generation iteration of the Xbox last year and got a head start on Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 3, which will be tricked out with all sorts of technological enhancements and is due to start rolling out this November.

Meanwhile, let's not forget about Nintendo, which will also launch its new gaming console, Wii, in November as well. The interesting thing about the Wii console is that many analysts expect that it will be a hit with small children and older gamers -- not the diehard gamers, but the average folk. Helping to rope more and more people into gaming is good for the industry, of course.

Beyond consoles, you're probably well aware that there are tons of ways people play video games. They can play them on their PCs, and they can play them on their cell phones. Heck, they can even play them on their Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPods. (Indeed, iTunes 7 has several games available for download to fifth-generation iPods, such as Tetris and Bejeweled.)

A web of explosive opportunity
Given the bright future of gaming in entertainment, David Gardner created what he called an entertainment property keiretsu of stock picks for Motley Fool Stock Advisor, which symbiotically interact with and benefit one another. When it comes to gaming, not only is there Electronic Arts, but there's Marvel Entertainment (NYSE:MVL), which licenses its library of comic characters to game publishers.

Then consider the fact that people go to GameStop (NYSE:GME) and other retailers to buy the games. These are just the tip of the iceberg, too, when it comes to ways of capitalizing off this current trend. There is a whole slew of stocks that David has recommended for Motley Fool Stock Advisor that belong in this keiretsu of opportunity, some of which you might overlook as names that stand to gain a great deal from video games' increasing popularity. (To see David's full selection of picks, click here for a 30-day free trial.)

One of the ways the world's best investors pick great stocks for the long term is to choose companies with great growth opportunities in nascent spaces. The video game industry is still in its infancy, as it grows from niche pastime to virtual hangout, and it's not too late to get in on the explosive growth in the space.

Electronic Arts, Marvel, and GameStop are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Click here for a 30-day free trial to find out more about the gaming keiretsu and many other great investing ideas.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. The Fool's disclosure policy is not playing games.