Thanks to a certain pandemic, many people have spent the better part of the year working from home — often in less-than-ideal situations. If you've finally decided to build a more long-term home office, a desk chair is one of the most important purchases you'll make. But as you browse, you'll probably see a lot of snazzy "gaming" chairs lumped in with the more boring, traditional office chairs — if you’re looking for the latter, there are some things to keep in mind before adding it to your cart.
What is a gaming chair?
There's nothing particularly unique about gaming chairs, except the style. Sure, you'll find everything from gaming armchairs to gaming chairs that bring you down close to the floor and everything in between. But these days, the term "gaming chair" tends to denote a specific type of office chair with a leather or faux-leather build, a high-back race car-style seat and colorful patterns.
DXRacer was the first brand to produce this style of gaming chair back in 2006 and has grown to offer many different shapes and styles — most built on the same race car chair design. This model uses an artificial polyurethane leather with high density foam and a carbon fiber texture on the seat. You also get strap-on lumbar and neck pillows, and a number of colors and patterns to choose from.
Since their inception, gaming chairs have grown incredibly common behind esports teams, Twitch streamers, YouTubers and other gaming personalities — leading to a surge in popularity.
Are gaming chairs ergonomic?
The word "ergonomic" gets thrown a lot in marketing — especially when it comes to chairs — ultimately, ergonomics is all about customizability.
"If I had to pick one important thing, it's that a chair be easily adjustable" said Karen Jacobs, a board-certified professional ergonomist and clinical professor occupational therapist at Boston University. Specifically, she explained, you want a chair whose height, tilt and armrests are versatile, and then you want to actually learn and use those adjustments so you can get that ideal sitting position at a desk. In fact, it's best if you adjust it throughout the day to vary your posture just a bit, rather than staying in one formation. So, in summary, adjustability is key.
There are dozens of chairs using this racing seat design, but with different features. Many more affordable chairs like this popular model on Amazon — whose more than 18,500 reviewers left it a 4.5-star average rating — allow the back to recline but don't allow for the full seat to tilt. If you're sitting at a desk for long periods, you’ll likely want that full tilt mechanism.
It can be tempting to lean forward during an intense gaming session, too, but you don't want to sit like this for very long. "The chair isn't providing the support you need," noted Jacobs. You want to be able to tilt the chair back and forth to promote some movement. In addition, she said, you want some cushion in the armrest and a porous, breathable material in the seat, neither of which is particularly common among gaming chairs. The lower the price, in fact, the quicker the faux-leather will start peeling and the seat cushion will wear down to its rock-hard bottom.
None of this is to say gaming chairs are terrible. Certain models do allow you to lean back and elevate your legs, much as you would on a couch, which will be decently comfortable. Jacobs also mentioned that if you're sitting back, the extra high back support can be nice, provided you have support for your neck, too — a lot of gaming chairs come with neck pillows, though some may be more comfortable than others.
Unlike more affordable models, the SecretLab Titan — built primarily for medium-to-larger folks — has full tilt functionality and adjustable lumbar support within the backrest. It also comes in fabric and NAPA leather variations, giving you a few more options in terms of materials.
Gaming chair versus office chair?
I get it: Gaming chairs look cool, and might feel a bit more comfortable at first blush. But just because a seat is comfortable when you first sit down doesn't mean it's going to be good for longer sessions at your desk.
"Typically, it can take a week or longer to really evaluate a chair for comfort," noted Jacobs. If you can, find a company and retailer that will let you try the chair out for at least a week, if not more so you can dial in the adjustments and decide whether it's right for you.
Ultimately, the chair you get will probably depend on your use case. If you want a chair that'll let you kick back on soft leather for an hour or two, a gaming chair may fit the bill. But if you're working from home or gaming for hours on end, you're probably going to get more for your money with an office chair designed for long sitting sessions. High-end, well-known office chairs like the Herman Miller Aeron and Steelcase Gesture are hard to beat when it comes to adjustability, comfort and long-term durability, but more affordable models like the Komene Mesh or HON Ignition can do the trick, as well.
Browse through sub-$500 chairs on Amazon and you'll find a lot that lack the adjustments mentioned above like tilting seats. The HON Ignition packs most of the important adjustments in an affordable package, though, along with a breathable mesh build. The newer Ignition 2.0 also contains adjustable lumbar support (rather than fixed), though stock is limited as of right now.
After many years of gaming-vs-office debates, manufacturers have finally started to join forces, merging gaming style with office comfort and adjustability. This year, Herman Miller collaborated with gaming manufacturer Logitech to release a new version of their much-lauded Embody chair. If you want the best of both worlds, this is where it starts — though the standard Embody does come in a host of colors on its own, too.
No matter what chair you choose, Jacobs noted there's nothing more important than taking regular breaks away from sitting. Every 30 minutes, get up and move around a bit. You can set a timer on your PC or phone — even the Xbox has a break reminder feature in the settings, and sometimes TikTok will serve you a reminder to look away from the screen.
The more regularly you get your blood moving, the better off you'll be in any chair.