Whether you identify yourself as a heavy gamer or the less enviable workaholic, spending long hours daily in your chair is probably a common occurrence. If you’re a gamer, the very first dilemma you’re confronted with when picking out an office chair is whether to go with a gaming or standard office chair, while if you’re not, the idea of owning a swanky gaming chair probably has crossed your mind.
In this post I’ll dissect all the major differences between a gaming chair and typical ergonomic office chair in terms of ergonomics to help you arrive at the best choice for comfort and your health. There is in fact a lot more than meets the eye, so keep reading to discover just which style is best for you before you make your next purchase.
What Defines a Gaming Chair?
There are no fast and hard rules when it comes to what constitutes a gaming chair. Like many things, the definition is constantly evolving as consumer tastes and expectations change. Most gaming chairs currently out in the market share the following attributes.
Key Design Elements Found in Most Gaming Chairs:
- Bucket Seat
- Raised front Lip Seat
- Fixed Headrest
- Detachable Lumbar and Head Pillows
- Winged backrest
- High Level of Back Recline
- Highly Adjustable Armrests
- Flashy Colors
With all of these unique attributes, it’s easy to spot a gaming chair from a mile away. Contrast that to standard office chairs, which usually are a lot more muted in colors and style, with seats and backrests more utilitarian than anything else.
So here’s the million dollar question- As a heavy or even casual gamer, which type of chair should you get, a gaming or office chair? To help you decide, let’s examine each part of a typical gaming chair to see how it compares to a standard office chair in terms of what matters- ergonomics.
Bucket Seat Design
Many gaming chairs adopt a bucket seat design where the two sides are raised. Inspired by racing car seats, sure it looks cool, but what practical function does it actually serve in your room as far as comfort or ergonomics? In a moving vehicle, bucket seats help secure the driver as his/her body shifts from left to right, but as a gamer, your body will seldom be moving sideways.
It would seem the whole basis for bucket seats in gaming chairs is for optics. They not only give the illusion of a seat that cradles you, but the feeling of sitting in a F1 racing car as you race in the streets of LA in the latest “Need for Speed” game. For gamers, this can be an important factor- anything that helps raise your emotions and puts you closer to the scene should be taken into consideration.
For an ergonomic standpoint however, bucket seats serve little purpose, and can even be counterproductive. With the two raised sides, there is more restriction in your seating space plus ability to move around. For people who like to sit cross legged with one or both feet on the seat, the raised sides can restrict blood flow in your feet even more than a normal contoured seat if your feet are forced to press up against them. Also, for larger people, it’s important to note that manufacturers often report the seat’s width that includes the raised sides which isn’t a accurate measurement of the available seating area.
Compared to gaming chairs, standard office chairs come with a contoured seat that does away with any raised sides. The choice of materials are also much more varied. While gaming chairs usually come with seats made of PU or real leather supported by high density foam (in more expensive gaming chairs), regular ergonomic chairs can come in mesh, leather, fabric etc. The Herman Miller Embody for example uses different layers of fabric materials for its seat that creates dynamic tension zones for maximum comfort.
Bottom Line: A good office chair beats a good gaming chair in the seating department when it comes to ergonomics. The raised sides in the later restricts movements and doesn’t support as wide a range of sitting positions compared to a regular office chair.
Raised Front Lip
Gaming chair seats commonly come with a raised front lip. Another design choice borrowed from actual car seats, this one serves just as much purpose ergonomically as the raised sides do.
In an actual car, a seat with an elevated front helps prop up the driver’s legs slightly so it’s easier to reach the gas pedals. But what makes for a smart design in one situation can have the opposite effect in another.
With an office chair, there is no gas pedal to floor, brake pedal to pump. The recommended ergonomic sitting posture is with your knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. At such a position, a seat with a waterfall edge, or the opposite of an elevated edge, is best for reducing pressure build up in the back of the thighs.
There are gaming chairs that feature waterfall design seats seen in standard ergonomic office chairs (such as E-Win), though by and large the raised lip still reigns supreme. I would recommend opting for the former, especially if your bottom or thighs feel numb often after prolonged sitting.
Bottom Line: A good office chair with a waterfall edge seat beats a gaming chair with a raised edge in terms of ergonomics.
Detachable Lumbar and Head Pillows
Detachable lumbar and head pillows are quintessential gaming chair accessories, but do they actually serve any ergonomic purpose? The short answer seems to be yes, though I recommend looking at gaming chairs where the height of the lumbar pillow can be adjusted (using a strap for example) so it can target the precise area of your back that needs cushioning.
A study was done on the effects of external lumbar pillows on promoting a neutral spine, comfort, and relief of lower back pain. The result was improvement in all key areas using instruments and participants feedback. It should be noted the lumbar pillow used in the study had a cut out in the center for the pelvic area; most lumbar pillows on gaming chairs simply consist of a block or a roll, though there is evidence that even such form factors contribute to “[favorable] head and neck postural alignment”. Again, I would suggest looking for gaming chairs where the lumbar pillows can be moved up and down, as each individual’s body is very different, and customization is key to getting any benefits.
Bottom Line: There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and a few studies that back up the positive role external lumbar pillows play in aiding with posture and comfort. The fact that they are removable (and some height adjustable) also makes them more versatile than office chairs with fixed lumbar support. However, higher end office chairs still beats gaming chairs hands down in terms of providing superior back and neck support that adopt to the user’s back as he/she moves (such as the Herman Miller Embody).
Another unmistakably gaming chair design is the winged backrest. Once again inspired from car seats designed to keep you in place as you make sharp turns, the problem is, even the most heart pumping racing game won’t probably have your body violently swaying from left to right.
The pros and cons of winged backrests are very similar to those of bucket seats. They contribute to the whole gaming experience not unlike a wicked gaming case does, though apart from optics, there is very little evidence such a design is beneficial from an ergonomic standpoint.
Bottom Line: Winged backrests can greatly add to the gaming experience, though from an ergonomic perspective, they only restrict the user’s upper body movements. :Larger people may also feel more cramped in a chair with wings, and should look at extra wide gaming chairs to compensate.
Many gaming chairs opt for a high back with a fixed headrest to support the player’s head. Combined with a removable head pillow to cradle the neck, this is better ergonomically compared to mid or low back office chairs for people that lean back often, as gamers frequently do. Just like a bed with a backboard and pillow feels more comfortable to sleep in, a chair with a headrest and support pillow provides more comfort and support than a chair without in a reclined position.
Of course, many standard office chairs also come with headrests, some adjustable in either height, angle, or both. Those are logically superior to fixed headrests, though it doesn’t diminish the fact that gaming chairs got the right idea in terms of neck and head support with their design.
Bottom Line: Headrests in generally are a good idea if you lean back often. The ubiquity of headrests in gaming chairs is the right step forward for ergonomics.
High Level of Back Recline
Most gaming chairs come with a high level of backrest recline, some even as far back as 180 degrees to create a makeshift bed. There is a lot of conflicting advice on just what the most ergonomic way to sit is. You’ve most likely heard the old adage “sit up straight” many times, though how does that really hold up scientifically when it comes to long term comfort and ergonomics?
Well, as it turns out, sitting in a reclined position puts the least strain and wear on your discs according to studies. This is especially pertinent if you’re prone to back pain. Canadian researcher Waseem Amir Bashir used MRI scans to examine the amount of pressure different sitting postures exerted on the spine. It turned out the least strenuous angle was a seated position with the backrest reclined at 135 degrees. This groundbreaking research has the possibility to impact the design of backrests in all ergonomic office chairs.
For gamers that can easily spend many hours seated, a chair with a high degree of recline would seem critical to help avoid back aches and even injuries. Many standard office chairs – especially leather executive chairs- are very restricted when it comes to the backrest, and either only rocks or reclines a small amount. Gaming chairs on the other hand are in general much more versatile in this respect, even the budget ones.
Bottom Line: Most gaming chairs with a high reclining backrest is conducive to long term back comfort and avoidance of back pain.
More Adjustable Armrests
Finally, we arrive at the armrests, which is another area where gaming chairs usually have a lot more to offer than standard ergonomic chairs at similar price points. It’s common to find 2D or even 3D armrests in the former category (such as the Songmics Gaming Chair) at below $200, where the height, depth, and even angle of the armrests can be adjusted to suit a variety of arm positions. Contract that to ergonomic office chairs, and you’ll be looking at chairs in the $300 and above for chairs with 3D armrests.
It goes without saying that adjustability goes hand in hand with increased ergonomics. A 3D armrest that pivots inwards for example supports more of your arms in the common “v” posture, such as typing or holding a controller.
Bottom Line: Gaming chairs typically come with more adjustable armrests than standard office chairs in the same price points.
Gaming Chairs versus Office Chairs- the Verdict?
So what’s the final verdict? Gaming or standard office chair? You can draw your own conclusions based on the above analysis, but here’s my takeaway strictly from an ergonomic standpoint:
- Bucket seats and winged backrests on gaming chairs can be counterproductive from an ergonomic standpoint, though the workaround is to get a larger gaming chair.
- At the lower end budget, gaming chairs pound for pound are slightly more ergonomic than standard office chairs. Even a cheap gaming chair comes with the basic blocks of a good ergonomic chair, such as lumbar pillows, robust reclining, backrest, and 2D or 3D armrests.
- Once you up your budget, standard office chairs start to leave gaming chairs in the dust in terms of comfort and ergonomics. They are not restricted to a particular trendy form factor that gaming chairs are subject to, and as such can innovative with flexible materials, 3D headrests, dynamic lumbar support, and more.
I hope you found this information helpful in picking out your next chair. Do you agree with our conclusion? Let us know your experience with your gaming or office chair below.
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