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When I used to play WoW (taking a bit of a break), I would listen to my local radio station via the web at the same time. It's not quite the same as downloading a file, but it is constantly streaming data from an outside source. I never had any problems.
"I am the prettiest african-american, vietnamese..cong..person." -SugarNCamo
I think Torrents would be no. Depending on what's being seeded and how many connections are used, it could be really taxing on a connection. Giving up a lot of upload bandwidth for Torrents can affect gaming.
I've found that the biggest problem with "downloading" is not really the down, but the up.
When you're using a tool such as bittorrent where you're (hopefully) constantly UPLOADING data back out it tends to be much more detrimental to your ping/lag than just downloading. Most broadband providers give you a much faster down connection than they do up, so when you're using the upload it'll start to hurt you much faster than if you were, say, just downloading a flat file via port 80.
I can stream net radio (down) and play and only get about +50 to ping.
If I'm in a torrent it completely cripples me.
Bandwidth is the main limitation which will cause a problem while you are downloading. There are also other considerations such as memory use and disk I/O which could affect game performance. With most types of download, you can control the amount of your bandwidth which is taken up. Find the magic number which allows you to game without taking a performance hit and set it there.
I almost always just download stuff when the gaming is done.