Why Do Atheists Like Video Games More Than Religious People Do?

A new study of 228 college students found that while just about everyone prefers video games to regular board games (duh), those who claim no religion vastly prefer video games compared to the religious peers. It's a small study, but the director, Chris Burris, has an interesting hypothesis about why atheists prefer video games. Burris believes that atheists tend to be less good at "generating emotionally evocative internal simulations of experience." Simply put, he believes that religious people tend to be more imaginative, and are able to craft their own sense of play around simple games, while non-religious people tend to prefer the concrete rules afforded by video games. Other researchers are skeptical of Burris' hypothesis, but all we know is anyone who prefers board games to video games has never had to set up a board game ...


J Conley


J Conley commented…

I'm a Christian, and I've enjoyed video games from my youth. But concluding that atheists are less imaginative than religious people comes across condescending.

It's like the recent study of which states are more religious; really, I wonder what these studies are supposed to prove.

For what it's worth, I'd argue that Christians tend to label video games, sometimes subconsciously, as a subversive and fruitless activity.

Obviously, many modern games have violence, sex, or adult themes that most Christians find objectionable, and they're readily blamed for youths' irreverent behavior.

In college, I played video games with a variety of friends, including Christians. However, I remember a few times when the Christian console's owner unilaterally decided that video games were off the table because, as Christians, we were wasting our time on them that we could be dedicating to ministry.

Even if we were well-behaved in our competitiveness (and usually we weren't), our religious sensibility seemed to keep us from enjoying it too much, i.e. how-can-we-play-mario-kart-when-people-are-going-to-hell sort of thing.

(Needless to say, this nagging sensibility was not present with my non-ministry friends. That's not to say they weren't Christians, but just that we had fun without over-thinking it.)

Additionally, I believe board games are considered vintage, community-building activities and unintentionally stir up nostalgic feelings of a less irreverent era.

Board games are akin to having dinner as a family, whereas video games are like grabbing your plate and retreating to your own rooms, with your own tvs.

I think that many religious people come from a certain cultural worldview that includes all of these sensibilities, even if subconsciously. It may not have much to do with our sense of *imagination* at all.



SammySupafly replied to J Conley's comment

Very nice reply. And I think I agree wholeheartedly. My friends and I do board games once a month (nerdy one's like Last Night On Earth, Roborally, Arkham Horror...lots of dice, counters, taking a couple hours to play, etc).

We like that it's "intentional". Kind of like, listening to vinyl or riding a bike, etc. Takes longer than jumping into some Battlefield but it's got it's own rewards that can't be found anywhere else.

Calvin Sun


Calvin Sun replied to J Conley's comment

I don't think the hypothesis itself is condescending, it is a theory and as with all research the conclusion is yet to be debated. However my own personal feelings is similar to yours, the jump from preference of gaming medium to the quality of imagination seem like a huge leap. Especially when the sampling demographic is college students only? Not to mention the table top games being compared are "narrative-oriented tabletop games"? D&D?

Personally I am a fan of both, but I do see more community building opportunities with general board games than video games. I don't think you can beat face to face encounters when it comes to building quality relationships... but than this makes a less provocative hypothesis...

Andrew Hall


Andrew Hall replied to Calvin Sun's comment

The findings are interesting, though the sample size could do to be bigger. I'm also guessing that the sample was heavily biased toward males (need I elaborate more on that point)? The fact they are in university (sorry, college), a time of great philosophical exploration and potential religious rebellion also skews the samples.

I prefer video games, personally. Mainly because of the higher sense of immersion that they offer, rather than the very detached experience of board games. Though I still engage in table top games of all kinds. I know many people who are involved at a local table top gaming club, and the overwhelming majority are atheists. Especially popular is Dungeons and Dragons, where imagination is the core element of it all.

Perhaps the researcher is missing the fact that Christian culture highly values a sense of community, and this is why they may have found the results they did. Not that atheist culture doesn't, but for Christianity, it's high on the manifesto. I'm not sure that this hypothesis of atheists preferring the concrete rules of games can hold water in the face of the fact that they are atheists BECAUSE they have rejected the unchanging rule-sets (not necessarily a proper description, but that is how they are seen) of religions.

As far as games in culture is concerned, I'm just waiting for some proper, unbiased clarification on the topic of video games and violence. I'm sick of the mostly unsubstantiated back and forth between right wing nutcases and furiously self-righteous apologists flinging very clearly biased studies at each other.

Kenny Tuttle


Kenny Tuttle replied to Andrew Hall's comment

I'm a Christian. Aspiring pastor actually. And I love video games. They're an amazing tool of expression and story telling. I even participate in a 24 hour video game marathon every year to raise money for local Children's Hospitals.

This is all to say, I've never had an issue not engaging in video games. Maybe it's more of a culture thing and less of a psychological thing?

Jeremy Huang


Jeremy Huang commented…

This certainly explains the militant atheism on NeoGAF...

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