Nicholas Warner, 7, thinks playing Nin-tendo games helps him in his schoolwork.

"I think it kind of helps you to write because you do a lot with your fingers."Nicholas, who plays the television computer games about two hours a day, is serious enough about the sport that he talked his father into driving up from Provo on Friday to attend Nintendo Powerfest. Why does he play? "It's fun."

"All he talked about for three weeks is this," says dad Ned Warner.

Picture a convention hall filled with 9- to 15-year-old boys fixated in front of television screens, their thumbs glued to controls. For serious Nintendo players, this event is sort of a high-tech version of Little League tryouts. To Nintendo nuts - many of whom are short and sport spiked hair - this is fun at its most serious.

Other generations of youths delighted in the circus or maybe a local carnival. In simpler times, childhood was filled with a baseball mitt or schoolyard games of 4-square and dodge ball.

Today's youths have Nintendo. "I think it's the playground of the future, a Las Vegas for the young," said Terry Torok, director of shows for Nintendo's national tour.

Most competitions offer athletes a chance to shine, Torok said. "What about the kids that are computer literate? Why shouldn't they get a chance on the stage, in the spotlight?"

This is sophisticated, a far cry from that early generation of home computer games. For instance, there's Teris, which involves dropping geometric shapes into a linear form. While that sounds like the kind of problems posed on a SAT test, Torok says it is the company's most popular game. "If you told your kids they had to do that, they'd say, `No, I've got chores.' "

Nintendo, the Japanese company that already has captured 80 percent of the U.S. computer game market, is touring 30 cities scouting the country's best players of their games. This first-ever Olympics of computer games will be televised, of course.

Up to 100 competitors at a time can pay $3 for the chance to play three games - Mario Brothers, Rad Racer and Teris. Those who rack up enough points qualify for the quarterfinals. Quarterfinal games are played in a central arena, where the games are projected on big-screen TVs.

All of this determines the three players who will qualify for national championships in Orlando in December.

But the Nintendo extravaganza isn't just about competition; it's also marketing at its most high-powered. The company, which offers about 450 different games, also is showing off 20 of its newest offerings.

There's also physical Nintendo, where players can race on foot-driven power pads, and a video booth where musical types can perform the Mario Rap.

Some people are so serious about the computer game that they fly around the country to the regional competitions. Torok said one couple, the Rosses of New Jersey, will be in Salt Lake City competing in their sixth powerfest.

But most of the players in attendance Friday were younger, with a parent in tow. There's a reason for that: Few of the contenders drive. And fewer of the parents have a desire to pilot the games.

"I don't want to look stupid," admitted mom Molly Mason, of Olympus Cove. "I was pretty good at those old games before the kids got big, like `Pong' and `Space Invaders.' "

"I've never played one game," bragged Cheryl Jaffa, of Sandy. She brought four of her six children to the event Friday. "They're loving it, and I'm bored to death."

Janice Brown, of Idaho Falls, said she used to play the game. "I did at first, but then they started buying harder games."

Her 9-year-old son, Grant, didn't take his eyes from the game screen as he assessed his mother's ability: "She stinks."

"I'll tell you one thing," said Nin-tendo father Fred Constantinesco, who brought two children to the event. "It's not a bad way to get them used to computers. It does help your hand-eye coordination."

While young boys seem addicted to the game, few girls were in attendance.

Brian Christensen, 13, Murray, thinks girls don't play much because "they want to go shopping."

Chris Langer, 13, Sandy, said his sister doesn't play "because she can't figure it out."

Torok admits the company has nearly saturated its target market and is starting to offer games aimed at parents and girls. Many boys grow out of their Nintendo addictions by about age 16. "When they get interested in girls, they start dropping off. They haven't come out with that Nintendo sex game yet."