WOMEN are taking over the internet, with more girls than men playing online games.

A survey found one in 10 "game-hers" rated virtual reality games as better than shopping.

Cracking cryptic codes was the number one pastime, followed by Lara Croft-style action role playing and brain training games.

The poll, by zylom.com, claimed 18.7 million women are hooked on internet games and puzzles compared to 18.5 million men and in the North West a staggering 81 per cent of women play games and puzzles, according to the survey.

But it's not just online games that are proving popular - new consoles with family-friendly games have attracted a whole new female market to video games.

Lindsay Davies, who works at Blackburn video game shop Game Xchange, is a self-confessed gaming addict.

She plays her Nintendo DS Lite on the bus to work and again when she gets home.

"I love gaming. I'm absolutely addicted," said Lindsay. "I own a Nintendo Wii and a Nintendo DS Lite and at the moment I'm playing a game called Animal Crossing, which is set in real-time. When I get home tonight to play it, it'll be the same time as it is in real life so all the shops will be closed. It's December at the moment in the game and it's snowing.

"I play it on the back of the bus in the mornings and whenever I'm not working I'm on it. As soon as I've got the kids' tea sorted I go on the computer. It's a bit of me' time and a good way to relax. I play on it rather than watch TV and I suppose it's like a hobby.

"The kids ask Can I have a go mum?' and I say No, this is mum's game.' I suppose I like that it's like visiting a different world. It's escapism."

Lindsay has noticed more women have begun visiting Game Xchange, in Market Way, Blackburn, where she works as a sales assistant.

She thinks the introduction of two new consoles - the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS - have opened up the gaming industry to women, helping it shed its "geeky" stereotype and create a nation of game-hers.

"We have a lot of older women coming in to buy crosswords and Suduko games for the Nintendo DS now," she said.

"Nintendo got it right this year. They've created a console which the whole family can enjoy, men and women young and old. They also created pink and light blue cases for the DS, which were marketed towards women."

Eileen McMahon, owner of Megaswop, Blackburn Road, Accrington, agreed.

She said: "Nintendo releasing the Wii and the DS Lite has opened up the market for women and families. Gaming is no longer about the kids sitting in their rooms doing something the parents don't understand. This has brought it back into the living room where now families play and have a laugh together.

"Women don't tend to want to kill people and blow things up in games like men do and that's why the games brought out for the DS Lite, where you can raise a dog or play something interactive, are so popular. This year they're bringing out a new fitness game for the Wii which I think will boost it even more with women."

In fact, a study by Liverpool John Moores University found regular use of the Nintendo Wii, in which body movements control the game, could help shift 27lb a year.

According to the study, the majority of game hers' are aged over 25, with 21 per cent of aged between 25 and 34 and 20 per cent aged between 35 and 44.

Psychologist Dr Sally Ann Law said: "There a number of psychological benefits associated with playing games and puzzles online. Women feel empowered, they are able to challenge various skills including leadership, competitiveness, puzzle solving and hand-to-eye coordination in a controlled and relaxed environment.

"Men have never had a problem with using a Sony PlayStation as an outlet to let off steam and now the worm has turned. The study proves that more and more women are using online games as a means to de-stress and chill out. Any preconceptions that these activities are male-dominated are disappearing; Women don't need to feel excluded from accessing a fun, alternative activity just because in the past it's been associated with men."