Xbox Live-like game chat has gone mainstream, it seems. The Washington Post says a 31-year-old mom and clinical social worker who has plenty of “real world” friends but sometimes catches up with them in a “Scrabble-like” cellphone game called Words with Friends is a good example of social gamers. Words with Friends is her favorite among all features and apps on her iPhone, and she taps into it about 10 times a day – not just to play the game but to chat with friends in it (sometimes more than in email, she told the Post). She’s far from alone. Forty percent of Facebook’s 500 million users play social games, as do more than 200 million people every month, with their numbers growing “by the thousands every day,” according to the Post, which adds that social gaming just passed email as the No. 2 online activity (after social networking), citing Nielsen figures. So the more social – not just communicative – a tool is, the more popular, it seems. How to distinguish between the two? Maybe social is a little less formal and a little more spontaneous and at least potentially multidirectional (not just two-way or just involving two persons). “The most popular social games are collaborations,” the Post reports. But watch out for social gaming that makes you feel obligated to join in, stay involved, or level up (see this clever essay on Farmville, which I blogged about here).