If they had Facebook in the great beyond, with impressively cosmic bandwidth, perhaps she’d be scandalizing me on “Scrabulous” today. We could play the “Scrabble” knock-off – or rip-off, if you ask Hasbro and Mattel – on the social network of its own Web site. With millions of players, the game created by a pair of Indian techies is a sensation.

We could also play “Texas Hold ‘Em Poker” from Zynga. Or “WarBook” from Social Gaming Network. Or “Dolphin Olympics” from Kongregate. Or perhaps even “Friends For Sale” from Serious Business. (Talk about scandalous.)

Or maybe just checkers or hearts from Mytopia.

Online social gaming has been around for years, available on Yahoo and other sites. But its popularity is surging, piggybacking on the success of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and other social networks.

Kongregate alone, a destination site for social gaming, hosts more than 4,500 games. In recent months, more than $30 million in venture funding has been invested in Silicon Valley start-ups that specialize in social games – and self-funded developers are pumping out popular games as well. Big companies like Electronic Arts and RealNetworks are expanding their offerings. Interest in

social gaming is such that it has inspired two new conferences – Thursday’s “InterPlay” and “The Business of Social Games” in June.”We’re trying to create a totally new gaming experience where people are connecting with friends and family,” said Shervin Pishevar, chief executive of Palo Alto-based Social Gaming Network (SGN), which recently secured $15 million in funding. One of his favorites, he said, is “Jetman,” because he plays against his 10-year-old son.

“The relationship is you to another person, not you to a piece of software,” said Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, based in San Francisco. Social-networking technology has improved dramatically, he said, removing the technical “friction” that made it so hard for him and his father to play chess online years ago.

Online social gaming is distinct from the digital games industry that grew from the Pong arcade game to the multibillion-dollar behemoth of today: companies like Electronic Arts, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, as well as mega-multiplayer Web sites like “World of Warcraft.” Digital game blockbusters may earn millions of dollars – but people may ultimately regard social gaming as “more meaningful,” said Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners.

“It’s more meaningful than playing with strangers. It’s a lightweight communication mechanism – a way of telling someone you’re thinking about them without having to say something more,” Liew said. “My mother-in-law forwards these chain e-mails to me. That is exactly the same behavior. This is another example of that.”

Sheila Dowd understands the appeal of games that may last for days. She grew up playing Scrabble and card games with family, and now plays Nintendo’s Wii with her kids. “I use Facebook for all sorts of reasons – finding friends, networking, non-profit fundraising,” says the San Jose woman, who blogs about parenthood.

Dowd figures she devotes up to 30 minutes of her time on Facebook each day pursuing diversions. She used to play “Scrabulous” – “I kind of OD’d on it” – and played “Texas Hold ‘Em” for a while. Lately she’s been challenging friends in trivia games, including one based on the TV series “Sex and the City.”

When a message declares, “Lacy got 875. Do you think you can beat her?” Dowd says she can’t help but try. “You don’t really have a lot of places that can showcase that,” she explained. Liew’s gaming pursuits may be less trivial, since he has real-world money invested in the field.

Zynga’s word game “Scramble,” Liew said, has been a great way to stay in touch with cousins in Singapore. For a time he was “addicted” to SGN’s “WarBook,” a game of conquest: “When I attacked a friend, I knew he would attack me back.” He admires “PackRat,” in which people create, swap and sometimes “steal” cards, and “Parking Wars,” in which friends own streets and score points by either parking illegally or catching their friends doing the same. He also enjoys a quiz competition called, “Who Has the Biggest Brain?”

Some social games are elaborate. Liew is invested, literally and virtually, in “Friends For Sale,” a provocative game created by Serious Business. As its Web site puts it: “Buy and sell your friends as pets! You can make your pets poke, send gifts, or just show off for you. Make money as a shrewd pets investor or as a hot commodity.”

Registration is required to be a “Friends For Sale” player. But the friends in the players’ respective profiles may have no idea that their Facebook personas have been commoditized, such as it is.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that fetching photos of attractive women tend to be pricey. Prominent Silicon Valley insiders are considered valuable, too. Liew said he got fellow VC Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital for a bargain price. “I own Roelof!” he boasts. “Somebody’s going to want to get his attention someday.”

The social context, Liew says, enriches the virtual game. “A lot of the players are not married, but they might have a girlfriend. Well, let’s say your girlfriend gets bought by some sketchy dude. How do you feel about that? And how does she feel about it? There’s a lot of social pressure there to buy her back.”

Serious Business, Liew said, is developing other games as well.

Those seeking a less fraught experience have a seemingly endless supply of games to choose from. There are many online versions of classics such as chess, backgammon or card games. For those seeking something new and different, San Francisco-based Kongregate has filled its virtual warehouse by tapping into the global cottage industry of independent game makers.

The free site is supported by advertising. Kongregate Chief Executive Jim Greer said it is developing a revenue-sharing model to compensate “indie” developers.

Backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Kongregate launched seven applications on Facebook last week to promote some of its more popular games, including “Dolphin Olympics” and “Mutually Assured Destruction.”

While Zynga, SGN and Serious Business rely on social networks for distribution, Greer hopes Kongregate’s new Facebook apps will drive traffic to the Kongregate site. About 90 percent of Kongregate’s users are under age 34, and 85 percent are male. By going into Facebook, “we’d like to balance it out a little more,” he said. “We’re experimenting.”

Before Greer founded Kongregate with his sister, he became immersed in the social-gaming business at Pogo, which built a successful subscription business around games like bridge and bingo. Its customer base, he said, largely consisted of middle-aged women willing to pay $40 a year to play games with friends. Pogo has racked up annual profits of over $50 million, Greer said, making it “a big winner in social games.”

It had me thinking of one middle-aged woman. My sister Linda and I have kept the family “Scrabble” tradition alive, playing thousands of games over the years. A few years back, we were enjoying a Scrabble-by-e-mail knock-off. (I certainly preferred it to the chain e-mails of cute animal photos.)

Then either Hasbro, which owns North American rights to “Scrabble,” or Mattel, which controls rights overseas, managed to shut down the interloper. Now there’s a legal battle over “Scrabulous.”

Time will tell how it all plays out. In the meantime, I’ve been telling Linda that it’s the best reason yet to get on Facebook.