WESTMINSTER - Twelve-year-old Jeanie Henderson is a self-proclaimed Nintendo nut.
"I play with my Nintendo every day," says Henderson, an East Middle School seventh-grader. "It's a lot of fun."
Henderson is not the only adolescent (or adult for that matter) who thinks that the Nintendo Entertainment System is a never-ending thrill.
Almost everyone, it seems, has a Nintendo -- a little gray box with a cartridge slot that hooks up to a television. The colorful and action-filled games that appear on the television screen are manipulated by controllers that are wired to the box.
Some families even have more than one Nintendo set.
"We have two because there's three of us," says Elise LaPrade, an East Middle School eighth-grader, who shares the game with her two siblings.
For LaPrade and countless others like her, Nintendo is a game that is exciting and fast-paced. It's an escape -- into another world where you can control your own fate. It's a game like no other video game -- it challenges eye and hand coordination. Others say they like the graphics, the color and the sounds -- those familiar blips and beeps, along with the catchy little songs that accompany the games.
Although Nintendos were first introduced in the United States in 1985, the craze really kicked off about three years ago.
One out of three American households owns a Nintendo system, Nintendo of America Inc. says. Sales of the Nintendo system peaked in 1989 when almost 10 million units were sold.
The software -- the various Nintendo games, which range from adventure and action to sports -- were expected to peak last year with about 60 million units sold. About 50 million games are expected to be sold this year.
And even though industry analysts say the game and the software items will continue to slow in sales, Nintendo is still on the top of many lists that Santa is perusing this year.
"Nintendo still sells very, very well," says Betty, a clerk in the appliance department at K mart in Eldersburg who asked that her last name not be used. "The Nintendo games are booming. They're doing very, very good. The games have always sold well."
Since the Nintendo craze began, all kinds of accessories have blanketed store shelves. Nintendo nuts can find everything from Nintendo bed linens to breakfast cereal.
Nintendo has the same pull for kids as video game arcades. It provides them with a challenge -- one that doesn't require spending quarters at the arcade.
But Nintendo units are not cheap. The entertainment systems sell for about $99 -- usually advertised as a sale price -- at most department and electronics stores. There are about 200 Nintendo games on the market and they begin at about $15 and sell for as high as $50 for the Super Mario Brothers 3 cartridge.
Many enthusiasts say they rent the cartridges first before forking out money for their own cartridge. Many video stores throughout Carroll County rent Nintendo cartridges for the same price as videotaped movies.
Among the most popular games is Super Mario Brothers 3, the second sequel to the ever-popular Super Mario Brothers, in which players take a small animated character named Super Mario or his brother Luigi over a series of obstacles to win points.
Nintendo Nuts says Super Mario Brothers 3 is the most challenging of the series.
Super Mario Brothers 3 also is popular with the LaPrade children, who received their first Nintendo system as a Christmas present three years ago.
"It's kind of relaxing," says Corey LaPrade. "You can unwind and take some of the stress away, especially when you get to shoot stuff."
Although the Nintendo system can be addictive, most kids don't seem to man the controls non-stop. In the Montgomery family, for instance, the interest of Jeremy and his sister Melanie is sporadic.
"They go in spells," says their mother, Noreta Montgomery. "The kids might not play with it for weeks at a time and then all of a sudden start playing with it every evening. My husband gets involved with it, too."
The Taneytown family agrees with the LaPrade children that the game is relaxing.
"It's an enjoyment," Noreta says. "The whole family gets into it. It's competition. It's a lot of fun but I'm not very good at it."
Competition is the pull for Jeremy, a fifth-grader at the Taneytown Elementary Annex who also is an avid baseball, football and basketball player.
"I like the competition," he says. "That's what I like about Nintendo.
It has a lot of cool games and the graphics are nice, too."
Jeremy admits, though, that he occasionally becomes bored with his Nintendo set. He says that usually happens when interest among his family members wanes and he ends up playing games alone. Even so, he keeps up with new cartridge releases and particularly likes Super Mario Brothers 3, Temco Baseball and Mike Tyson's Punchout.
He admits, however, that his sister, a freshman at Francis Scott Key High, is the heavyweight in that game.