Video games used to be the No. 1 gift request of preteen boys alone, but not anymore. With the release of sophisticated hardware such as Sony’s PlayStation 2 console, the audience for games has expanded to include older gamers, both male and female.

In fact, according to data gathered by the Interactive Digital Software Association, the trade organization that represents video and computer game makers in the United States, 61 percent of male gamers is over the age of 18. Female gamers make up 43 percent of the total market.

And the best part about giving games is that like books, there are games to fit every taste and personality. But before you start handing out the disks, you should ask yourself a couple of questions:

“What games are appropriate for your intended recipient?” and “What kind of hardware does your intended recipient have?”

As game technology has become more powerful, game images have become more realistic. The violence in horror games is now as realistic as anything in the movies, so parents may want to think twice before giving these games to children.

As for hardware, just as Macintosh computers do not run PC software, Sony’s PlayStation 2 will not run Sega Dreamcast games. You should check what system your recipient has before purchasing video games. Game manufacturers stop supporting consoles as they become old, but computers can be updated. Double check both the make and power of computer hardware before giving games as gifts.

With that said, below is a list of some games that might make good gifts this Christmas:

Baldur’s Gate II:Shadow of Amnz Publisher: InterplayPlatform: Windows(Suitable for players aged 14 and up)

This has been a great year for Dungeons and Dragons-type role-playing games. Westwood released “NOX,” Blizzard published the phenomenally successful “Diablo II,” and Interplay brought two amazing RPGs to market: “Icewind Dale” and “Baldur’s Gate II.”

All of these games are great, but my favorite is “Baldur’s Gate II,” a game that is unparalleled in the breadth of its story and the variety of its races and spells.

In this game, players help a character regain his identity while assembling an army with which he will travel the countryside and battle monsters of absolutely every description. Get ready for some long nights with this game.

Samba de AmigoPublisher: Sega of AmericaPlatform: Dreamcast(Suitable for players of all ages)

In “Samba de Amigo,” players shake motion-tracking, maraca-shaped game controllers to the beat of “The Macarena” and other Latin pop hits.

This is the kind of game that gives you a goofy smile whether you win or lose. Make no mistake, “Samba de Amigo” is a game of skill and timing. You cannot fudge rhythm in this game. You either catch the beat and shake your maracas in the right place at the right time or look silly trying.

A word to the wise and money-conscious, “Samba de Amigo” is lots of fun, but it isn’t cheap. It’s most enjoyable as a two-player shakeoff, but the maraca controllers retail for $79.95 a pair.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2Publisher: ActivisionPlatform: PlayStation, Dreamcast, and PC (Suitable for players 14 and up)

“Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2” features an inventive blend of skateboarding athleticism and anarchistic GenXism made slightly more acceptable for players of all ages by a huge number of hidden Easter eggs. Many of the walls and windows in this game exist solely as cover for hidden skating areas.

The point of “Tony Hawk 2” is to master a circuit of 3-D arenas by jumping ramps, knocking over barrels, collecting various items and performing tricks. In modern GenX skateboarding lingo, you “grind.”

“Tony Hawk 2” stands out as having some of the most enjoyable, yet toughest challenges of any game this year. It also has brilliantly responsive game control.

Jet Grind RadioPublisher: SegaPlatform: Dreamcast(Suitable for players 14 and up)

If jumping ramps and sliding rails on a skateboard isn’t your bag, how about whizzing around in magnetized in-line skates and painting graffiti?

Sega’s “Jet Grind Radio” puts players at the head of a notorious gang of futurist skaters that paint the town, literally, marking their turf with graffiti while chasing off rival gangs and avoiding the cops.

“Jet Grind Radio” is a video game masterpiece with truly stylish art, great precision controls and a wonderful mixture of Japanese and American hip-hop culture.

The Legend of Zelda:Majora’s MaskPublisher: NintendoPlatform: Nintendo 64(Suitable for players of all ages)

The fantasy world of Hyrule is in trouble, and only Link, the elfin hero of Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” games, can save it.

For the last 14 years, “The Legend of Zelda” series has been Nintendo’s premium RPG/fantasy adventure series, and “Majora’s Mask,” the sixth game in the series, upholds the tradition of quality.

One trademark of “Zelda” games is innovation — and that stands out in “Majora’s Mask.” In this game there is an evil moon poised to crash into the world, and Link has only 72 hours to figure out how to stop it. Of course, these are 72 reusable hours. Among other new skills, Link discovers how to meddle with the fabric of time in this game.

Even with his new trick, and a set of masks that gives him all sorts of new abilities, he is in for a tough battle.

SSXPublisher: Electronic ArtsPlatform: PlayStation 2 (Suitable for players of all ages)

So far, Electronic Arts is proving to be Sony’s most influential publishing partner for PlayStation2, and “SSX” proves why.

While at its most basic level, “SSX” is a snowboarding game, calling it that is somewhat like calling Akebono a “chubby guy” — the description is correct but far from accurate.

Normal snowboarding games are about getting down hills quickly while performing a few stunts. “SSX” places players in the “Tokyo MegaPlex,” an artificial snowboard run that can best be described as a mountain-sized pinball machine. There’s another run that lets players board down the slippery slopes of a giant iceberg in a Hawaii harbor.

These runs may sound absurd, but they’re fun.

Crimson Skies Publisher: MicrosoftPlatform: Windows(Suitable for players 14 and up)

What if America had fallen in love with airplanes instead of automobiles? This is the premise of “Crimson Skies,” a fast-paced game in which players step into the cockpit of a daring air pirate terrorizing the skies in the ’30s.

With stylish, and sometimes garish, planes that have little basis in fact and missions that combine the swashbuckling psyche of days gone by, “Crimson Skies” is a rare and wonderful game.

Return of The IncredibleMachine: Contraptions Publisher: SierraPlatform: Windows/Macintosh(Suitable for players of all ages)

How do you make a game out of performing mundane tasks with ordinary objects? “The Return of Incredible Machine: Contraptions” makes an art of it.

“Contraptions” is the interactive version of the works of Rube Goldberg, a humorist who made a career out of designing silly contraptions out of bowling balls, bathtubs and other items.

Imagine catching a mouse by releasing a bowling ball that rolls down a ramp, striking a mouse’s cage, causing the rodent to run on an exercise wheel, pulling a string which starts a fan that pushes a balloon from beneath a roof until it floats up and pops on a pin, dropping a cage on a mouse. “Contraptions” gives players 200 tasks to complete by creating Goldberg-esque devices. It even has puzzles players can race to solve in head-to-head races.

The Sims (and The Sims Living Large expansion pack) Publisher: Electronic ArtsPlatform: Windows/Macintosh(Suitable for players 14 and up)

In “SimCity,” game designer Will Wright introduced players to the decisions and consequences of running or ruining a city. In later games, he expanded this formula to include the world (“SimEarth”), an ant colony (“SimAnt”) and even evolution (“SimLife”).

It’s been 10 years, and now Wright is giving his games a more personal touch. In “The Sims,” players take control of a single person instead of a city, world or colony. Now players decide whether they want the character they control to work for the police, a military contractor or the mafia.

One thing that has not changed is the give-and-take decisions and consequences formula that has become Wright’s trademark.

If your Sim is getting lonely, you can have him/her party and make friends, but he/she may be too tired for work in the morning and miss a promotion. Concentrating on employment and social life too much may result in too little sleep, bad health, or sloppy living conditions.

The Sims, like any Sim game, is a balancing act. But unlike Wright’s past balancing acts, this latest one has a sense of humor.