If you’ve got your eye on a gaming chair, you might be wondering how it stacks up ergonomically against more traditional office chairs.
Gaming chairs can often be an ergonomic choice, especially ones that emphasise adjustability and additional ergonomic features rather than just aesthetics. They often stack up well in the low-to-mid tier chair range, but may not be competitive with top-tier ergonomic chairs.
In 2021, gamers spent about 8 hours and 27 minutes each week playing video games, an increase of 14% over 2020. Many gamers even exceed 12 hours a week .
Clearly, people are gaming for longer hours. Therefore, the ergonomics of a gaming chair are an essential consideration.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the ergonomic features found in gaming chairs, as well as some features that may not help from an ergonomics perspective.
We’ll then break down what gamers need in terms of ergonomics, and round off with some gaming chair history!
Ergonomic Features of Gaming Chairs
A regular gaming chair can be more ergonomic than a typical office chair.
This is especially true in the low-to-mid chair range. Once you get into the high-end range (think Herman Miller Aeron or Steelcase Leap, etc), they may not compare as well ergonomically.
Of course, this depends more on the particular model, rather than whether the chair is classed as a “gaming” chair or not.
Let’s walk through a few features you can use to assess how ergonomic a gaming chair is.
One key principle from an ergonomics perspective is “adjustability”. This is the extent to which the chair can be adapted to your individual body type.
Most gaming chairs possess some standard features.
Typically, these include:
- An tall backrest with wings
- A bucketed seat
- Lumbar and head/neck support cushions
Gaming chairs that stack up better ergonomically should allow adjustment of the:
- Lumbar support
- Chair recline level
- Armrests; and
- Seat height and depth
Example gaming chair. Questions to ask: are the armrests adjustable? What about seat heat and depth? And the recline function?
The more of the above that can be adjusted, the better you’ll be able to support your particular body type.
To further understand adjustability options, check out our guide on what to look for.
In some cases, you can find a cheap gaming chair with these basic ergonomic “adjustability” features. However, this can be hit and miss, so you’ll want to thoroughly assess the adjustability of each component mentioned above.
“Ergonomic” Design Orientation
There are gaming chairs, and then there are gaming chairs that are marketed as ergonomic gaming chairs.
Gaming chairs designed especially with ergonomics in mind may compare more favourably to ordinary office chairs.
So how are ergonomic gaming chairs different?
First of all, these types of chairs often omit the side wings in the backrest typically seen in regular gaming chairs.
Ergonomic gaming chairs will also lack a bucketed seat. Instead, ergonomic gaming chairs tend to borrow the seat design of office chairs, that is, flat or waterfall edge seats.
Effective Lumbar Support
Additionally, ergonomic gaming chairs generally have dedicated and adjustable lumbar support. It is this extra lumbar support and adjustability that is a crucial distinction from a regular gaming chair.
That said, there are ergonomic office chairs that make some gaming chairs pale in comparison when it comes to comfort and ergonomics.
They go all out in the things that make a chair truly ergonomic by using flexible materials like mesh, boasting highly adjustable headrests, and, of course, having dynamic lumbar support.
Is There Anything About a Gaming Chair That is Not Ergonomic?
By having their roots in the car racing industry, gaming chairs tend to come with specific features. However, some of these details do not make for good ergonomics outside the race track.
Gaming chairs typically feature a winged backrest. Given the history of gaming chairs, you will appreciate that the car racing industry inspires this design.
Wings on the backrest are intended to keep the driver in place as he makes sharp turns.
Although these might help to boost the gaming experience, there is very little evidence to support this as an ergonomically practical design.
Raised Front Lip
Another design element in gaming chairs taken from racing cars is their raised front lip.
This design helps to prop up the driver’s legs as he drives and allows the gas pedals to be more easily reached. It also helps keep the driver in the seat.
Unfortunately, the recommended sitting posture is that your knees should be bent 90 degrees, and your feet should be flat on the floor. This is better achieved by seat designs that are flat or have a waterfall edge.
Example of a bucket seat. Note the raised sides.
Bucket seat designs are also a connection with the car racing industry. Many gaming chairs have a bucket seat design with two sides raised.
In a car that’s moving 200mph, this seat design helps secure the driver’s body as it shifts from side to side. For gamers, this might be important in simulating a more realistic game experience.
From an ergonomic standpoint, though, the two raised edges of bucket seats can be problematic. They restrict your seating space and impede your ability to move around. This is made worse for people who like to sit cross-legged or who are bigger.
For a good summary of common problems folks have with gaming chairs and using them comfortably, check out this video:
What Ergonomic Needs Do Gamers Have?
As in any profession, the tool and the activity have an impact on the comfort of the users. Here’s a look at the specific challenges that gamers face.
Repetitive Strain Injuries
Most video games require specific repetitive actions of the upper limbs that may exacerbate some health problems.
Repeated motions like constant button pressing, rapid mouse movements, unnatural finger positions, and fast mouse clicks cause discomfort in the hand and wrist.
These health challenges are known as Repetitive Strain Injuries, but in gaming, they were given a memorable name – “nintendinitis”.
Also called “Nintendo thumb” and “gamer’s grip”, the term was invented in the mid-1980s in response to the rising evidence of such strains among gamers, including children.
Nintendintis was first brought to light when Nintendo games consoles were released. Later, the controllers for the Sony PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were also noted as a cause of the condition.
Although children were one of the primary audiences of early-generation video games, you can now find gamers in their old age. Regardless of age, for those who play regularly, gamer’s grip is a challenge that some must manage.
Lower Back Pain
Gamers are not strangers to prolonged sitting, but sitting for extended periods is not ideal for the body.
Among other health problems, the habit of prolonged sitting can cause lower back pain. This is the second most common pain pattern in gaming.
Gaming, by nature, makes it relatively easy to get caught up in the moment.
When you are doing word processing tasks, for instance, you are probably more mindful of your posture and are more alert to change as needed.
On the contrary, players engaged in intense gaming sessions can quickly fail to recognize or resolve bad neck alignment, poor visual alignment, and being hunched over.
These and other elements of bad posture can lead to muscle strain and lower back pain.
Players may not even need to wait for long-term back pain to set in. Sometimes, aches can be felt after just a few hours of gaming.
Digital Eye Strain
Repetitive strain injuries are more common in action and shooter games for obvious reasons. However, eye strain must not be overlooked (pun intended!) as it affects gamers across every genre.
Digital eye strain is also identified as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) by the American Optometric Association.
It is a condition that arises from using digital devices too often and at a close distance. Glaring at a screen up close and for long periods may seem benign, but it is a subtle cause of eye problems among gamers.
Some of the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome include:
- dry eye
- pain in the neck and shoulders
These symptoms are brought on by high screen glare and low screen contrast, which force your eyes to work harder than they would generally need to.
Video games, as opposed to other computer uses, require the constant focus of the eyes. This can cause more frequent manifestations of Computer Vision Syndrome than with other uses of electronic devices.
One Japanese study among children even suggested restricting daily gaming time to 60 minutes or less . This attempts to prevent some of the eye strain symptoms reported during the study.
A Little Bit of Gaming Chair History
The first gaming chair was released for sale to the public back in 2006 by a company called DXRacer.
DXRacer were initially involved in designing and making seats for luxury sports cars in 2001. When the stock market crashed after 9-11, it immobilized the auto industry.
Then when oil prices started rising, sales of gas-guzzling American cars dropped. That’s when DXRacer engineers tapped into the rising pro esports industry . They designed chairs to look like race-car seats.
Nowadays, gaming chairs have winged backrests and pillows for the head and back. They are designed with bold logos, and the colors are bright. You can even find gaming chairs in the color pink!
Given the fashion history, it’s clear that the drivers behind modern gaming chairs have partially been “looks” and not necessarily “ergonomic effectiveness”.
That said, hopefully this article has helped clarify what to look for in a chair and what can be ignored.
If you are looking for an affordable ergonomic office chair, a gaming chair can be a practical option.
Bear in mind, though, that some of the design elements of a typical gaming chair are purely for sentiments and optics.
If your purpose for an office chair is for serious gaming, the sensation provided by these gaming chair elements will be desirable. But if you are not using the chair for serious gaming, you might do better with an ergonomic office chair.