Why Are Gaming Chairs So Expensive? An Interview With Ergonomic Experts

Posted by George Wong on June 18, 2020

While our previous article on ergonomics had some useful information, it was written by a mere enthusiast. In pursuit of better understanding, we decided to approach people who were experts working in the field. Today, we sit down with Ammar Adnan and Dr Malek from SimplyErgo, who have the answers to all our questions regarding ergonomics when it comes to gaming. For all you gamers out there, it’s time to absorb some knowledge!

Left: Ammar Adnan, Right: Dr. Malek Hamid

Firstly, tell us who you are!

My name is Ammar Adnan, currently, I’m working as an Ergonomics consultant at Simplyergo Sdn. Bhd. Before that, I used to work for Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Malaysia (HFEM) and then further my postgrad studies in Ergonomics. As of now, my line of work focusing on providing ergonomics training, assessment, seminar, and research & development. My colleague, Dr Malek Hamid, is a certified Associate Ergonomics Professional (USA) and also a committee member of Human Factors and Ergonomics Malaysia Society. He has been in the Ergonomics field for almost fifteen years.

What is your opinion on 'gaming chairs' (i.e. chairs from Secretlab, Need For Seat, DX Racer)? Compared to expensive office chairs (i.e. the Herman Miller Aeron or Steelcase Leap), what are the key differences between them?

Since the rise of esports, the use of gaming chairs has become quite popular among the gaming community and streamers. When I look at gaming chairs, I realized that the design resembles a car racing seat, which looks really cool and sporty. It really is a "wow" factor for people to own one and the design can possibly make gaming experiences more fun. But first, let's compare the features of it with the office chair.

There are a few key differences between the gaming chair and office chair (i.e. Aeron & Steelcase Leap) that we can differentiate. Firstly, the design of the seat pan. The gaming chair has a bucket seat design with raised on the side and the back. The raised side may restrict the movement of the user when seating especially large people. While for an office chair, the design of the seat has a curved surface shape with that slopes downwards at the front. A good seat design should avoid any constraint movement and provide freedom for the user to change postures once in a while. 

Secondly, the padding of the gaming chair is thicker compare to the office chair which uses a thin layer high-density pad. In terms, of flexibility and breathability, the office chair is more flexible and breathable which provides more comfort.

Thirdly, backrest. The gaming chair backrest is flat and fixed, which provides less support to your back. In order to support your back, you need to add the lumbar pillow. For the office chair, the backrest is contour to the shape of the human spine and it has built-in lumbar support. It is essential for backrest to follow the shape of the human spine in order to provide good lumbar support.

Fourth, backrest angle (recline). The recline angle of the gaming chair is up to 180°, while the office chair is approximately up to 120°-130°. An optimal recline angle while sitting is between 100°-110°. Nonetheless, for this matter, it depends on the individual preference itself, which is more comfortable to the user. In terms of productivity, reclining more than recommended is not necessarily useful as it does not improve the productivity of the user.

Lastly, the armrest. Gaming chairs have a 4D armrest which is fully adjustable in four directions (forward & backwards, up & down, left & right, and pivot in & out) while office chair can be adjusted to up & down and pivot in & out. Providing fully adjustable armrest is certainly a good feature in helping the user to find the best position to rest the arm while working. In terms of adjustment and comfort, the office chair is a better choice to use as the demands for gaming are a lot similar to office work.

Why do these special chairs cost so much? Is there a reason why cheaper chairs are worse than expensive chairs?

There are a few reasons that may cause these chairs to cost more than the regular chair. First the chair quality. Each part of the chair is made up of high-quality materials starting from the caster, mesh, armrest, backrest, and the finishing. Using high-quality material definitely improves the durability of the chair and increase the cost of it. While for a cheaper chair, the materials are usually made from plastic and low-quality fabric which causes it to be less durable and won’t last long.

Next, companies like Herman Miller provide you with a warranty for up to 12 years. It just shows how confident the manufacturer is with their products. Compare it to a cheaper chair, you may get no warranty at all or between 1-2 years warranty. From this aspect, we know that the chairs are built for longevity.

In terms of ergonomics, there are a lot of considerations that need to be considered in fitting the chair to humans. In this case, the adjustability and comfort of the chair. The expensive chair usually is highly adjustable in order to fit the body of the user. Among the adjustable features are the height of the seat, armrest, and backrest with proper lumbar support to allow the user to maintain a good body posture. Besides that, the high-quality materials of the seat usually provide better flexibility and breathability when seated, thus improving comfort. Comparing to cheaper chairs, you may have limited adjustment and less comfort.

Lastly, premium chairs are fully customizable. They allow you to customize your chair based on your own preference. Thus, causing it to have a higher per-item cost compared to the mass-produced standard chair. For the cheaper chairs, there is no customization that can be done.

In the end, it really depends on your task. If it requires you to sit for more than 6-8 hours every day, it is better to invest your money on a good chair for your own comfort and health. A cheaper chair does not mean it’s bad, it just provides you with limited adjustability and less comfort for long hours of work.

What are your thoughts on people buying a cheap copy or clone chairs?

For me buying a cheap copy or clone chairs will cost you more money than you intend to in the long run. They may provide an identical look to the genuine chairs, but their features and materials used are low-quality. Usually, these kinds of chairs won’t last long and do not provide comfort to you. In the end, you will spend more money buying new chairs instead of a single one that can last a long time. Another issue is that cheap chairs may cost a cumulative effect on the user's health such as back pain and muscle pain. If this occurs, the medical fees could be costlier than what you would spend on an ergonomic chair.

Image Credit: BTOD

If we were on a budget, what should we look out for when purchasing a chair?

When looking to buy a chair, the most important thing is you feel comfortable when sitting on it and it provides good support for your back. Generally, features that a good chair needs to have are: adjustable seat height and backrest. To adjust the seat height, make sure it can be done in one smooth motion while sitting. Find a chair that can provide you with proper lumbar support, if it’s too expensive, you can add a lumbar pillow to support your back. An optimal recline angle for the backrest is between 100°-110°, but this depends on your own preference. Next, a short adjustable armrest is preferred as it avoids contact with the front edge of the desk. Ensure that your seat swivels to prevent twisting your body and lastly, make sure it has a 5-point castor base for stability.

What is the most ignored aspect of ergonomics that a lot of people miss out on?

Usually, when we talked about ergonomics, it is always associated with body posture and chairs. It’s not only about having a good posture or ergonomics chairs, but it is also about user performance and experiences. One of the most ignored aspects of ergonomics is ergonomics in design. Have you ever faced a problem while using a product or completing a task that is hard to understand? When you experience it, you start to feel frustrated or ashamed because you don’t know how to do it. If yes, then it’s not your fault, it is a design error. When it comes to product/system design, applying ergonomics principles help in optimizing the interaction between the user and the product/system which eventually result in the increase of productivity and improve user satisfaction.

What symptoms should people look out for to know they are suffering from poor ergonomics?

The poor practice of ergonomics can lead to various types of injuries to your body. It can lead to Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), which are painful injuries that affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Among the disorder of MSDs is the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). The symptoms of CTS include numbness, tingling, sharp pain, and weakness in your hand. Frequent use of mouse and keyboard with the awkward posture of the hand and wrist can cause repetitive strain injury to the wrist which then leads to CTS.

Next, poor ergonomics can lead to back pain. The symptoms are muscle ache, stabbing pain, and pain that worsens when standing, sitting or walking. Back pain can be related to poor posture and movement. For instance, excessive twisting, lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy weight incorrectly and awkward standing or sitting postures. Sitting for a long duration without proper back support also can increase the risk of back pain.

Besides that, poor ergonomics can also cause stiff necks. One of the common causes of a stiff neck can be slouching while looking at the computer screen or looking downwards at your smartphone for a long period. The symptoms of it can be annoying discomfort or pain in the neck area when turning it to one side. Finally, it also can cause eye strain. Symptoms of eye strains include headache, watery or dry eyes, having difficulty concentrating, and increased sensitivity to light. The causes of eye strains are looking at screens for a long time, exposure to bright light, glare, or dry moving air from a fan or air-conditioning system, and being stressed or fatigued.

Image Credit: Drop

What do you think about smaller or “ortholinear” keyboards? Do they help? How about trackballs vs mice?

Comparing smaller ortholinear keyboards to staggered keyboards, ortholinear keyboards have an advantage when it comes to space-efficiency. In terms of ergonomics, they help to reduce the number of unwanted keys on your keyboards and minimize the amount of space taken up on your desk. Besides that, it also reduces the finger and hand movement (ulnar and radius deviation) while typing. For better support of the wrist place a wrist rest while typing.

Related: Are Ortholinear (grid/matrix) Keyboards Better Than Staggered?

Between trackball vs mice, the trackball helps to minimize the movement of your wrist compared to mice. Moreover, less space is needed for the trackball as you don’t need to move it a lot. Nonetheless, if you still prefer to use your mouse, you can minimise wrist movement by increasing the sensitivity of your cursor.

How big of a role does hardware or equipment play when it comes to having good ergonomics? Is it more of a case of practising good habits?

Hardware/equipment does play a big role in having good ergonomics. As it involves the interaction between humans and machines, a lot of consideration needs to be taken to fit the physical features of it to the capabilities and limitations of humans while considering the task. For example, a keyboard. The design of the keyboard will influence the posture of the user (arm and wrist position) when typing. A well-designed keyboard will help the user to type comfortably in a relaxed posture and help to prevent repetitive strain injury. So, hardware or equipment also plays a crucial role in good ergonomics. It’s not just about practising good habits.

If you had to give some ergonomic advice to all our readers, what would the most important thing be?

The most important aspect of ergonomics is to maintain a good posture of your body. If possible equip yourself with ergonomics design devices and try to minimize contact stress of the body, for example, your wrist, thigh, and buttocks. Take a break every 2 hours (or less if more stressors are involved). Lastly, alternate your posture between sitting and standing.

We hope this article will help you with your purchasing decision for your next chair. Be sure to check out our previous article if you haven't already. Stay tuned to eGG Network for more ergonomic gaming advice in the future!

Banner image credit: Marco Verch


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