Bright colors. High headrests. Plush bucket seats. The average gaming chair -- the one you see your favorite Twitch streamer sitting in or onstage at esports competitions -- does its best to stand out.
Ergonomic? Not so much.
The arched-in back to Herman Miller and Logitech G's Embody Gaming Chair doesn't look like something you can sink into. The seat itself doesn't look as thick as other gaming chairs, and there's not much flash or color to the Embody model.
The reason Embody seems so different, Logitech G product marketing lead Ben Yu said, is simple: The widely accepted style of gaming chair isn't made for gaming. This chair is designed with ergonomics in mind.
"When you look at a quote-unquote gaming chair today in this space, the majority of what you'll see are these racing-style chairs that look like they come out of a racecar," Yu said. "A large number of gamers have expressed dissatisfaction with that when it comes to things like comfort. And there's actually a lot of really interesting ergonomic and scientific principles behind that and a lot of interesting design reasons why that's the case."
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to lead to lockdowns and quarantines worldwide, people are spending more time than ever sitting at home -- and in doing so, learning just how important a good seat is. And the Embody Gaming Chair is just that: A piece of furniture that has been put through 1 million points of stress testing, according to Herman Miller, and that is designed to positively affect posture and allow for fine-tuning of the seat and back to suit the individual buyer.
The importance of ergonomics
Ergonomic support is important, particularly when people, gamers or not, are spending more time than ever sitting in front of screens. Dr. Caitlin McGee, the director of performance and esports medicine for 1HP, which specializes in injury management and wellness for competitive gamers, said in an email that there are some design deficiencies in what we currently call a gaming chair.
"There are some definite cons to using a racing-style chair for prolonged sitting," McGee said. "Most racing chairs have bucket seats, with raised sides and an elevated front. The raised sides reduce the amount of shifting and changing position that you can do easily.
"I like to teach that 'your best posture is your next posture' -- that is, consistently moving and changing position is better than any one 'perfect' posture you could have. If your chair doesn't let you shift easily, that's a bit of a con in my book. The same goes with the elevated front of the chair. In a racecar, that's functional and designed to help you reach the pedals comfortably and keep you in your seat. At a desk, you generally want your feet planted on the floor and knees at roughly 90 degrees. An elevated front makes that harder and puts extra pressure against the backs of the thighs."
Embody is an improvement on those fronts and also comes with the ability to tweak the length of the seat, the pitch of the chair, the width and height of the armrests and several elements of the back of the seat itself.
Herman Miller, a company that develops office furniture, and Logitech, a company that specializes in gaming gear, began working on the Embody collaboration a couple of years ago. They visited the team houses of the San Francisco Shock, Cloud9 and other esports organizations to determine what the most common posture problems and areas of discomfort were for pro players and used that as a base for developing the Embody model.
"I like to teach that 'your best posture is your next posture' -- that is, consistently moving and changing position is better than any one 'perfect' posture you could have." Dr. Caitlin McGee
The partners were putting the finishing touches on the chair only a few months ago when the coronavirus began, making the need for quality at-home seating even more timely. The team had identified areas where the general gaming chair comes up short, Herman Miller business lead for gaming Jon Campbell said. Some of those flaws include:
1. Racing chairs are designed for extending your legs, looking slightly upward and reclining, while PC gamers usually sit upright, leaning forward and looking slightly downward.
2. The reclining nature of a racing chair leads to players hunching forward and curving their spines unnaturally.
3. Players often don't have a solid base with feet on the ground because the default gaming chair makes it difficult to keep your legs at 90-degree angle with both feet flat.
The result of those takeaways is the most customizable chair Herman Miller has ever produced, Campbell said, with a back designed to let players move their arms freely back and forth and bring more oxygen into the body, a cushion made of cooling foam that keeps the seat from building up heat and pixelated support, which encourages "micromovements" while seated and makes it easier for players to adjust in their seat.
"When it comes to this particular chair, there are definitely some features I love," McGee said. "The backfit adjustment, being able to adapt to the curve of the spine, is great. I love the footrest, especially for shorter individuals like myself, because that allows you to distribute some pressure through your feet and to avoid posterior pelvic tilt and that slumped-back posture."
Is it worth it?
There is one pain point when it comes to Embody, though. The Herman Miller stamp of approval comes with a 12-year warranty and the chair shipped to you fully assembled, but it also means a $1,495 price tag. A typical gaming chair will cost you anywhere from $100 to $350, maybe a bit more, which puts this chair's pricing well out of range of the norm.
McGee said that though she is a fan of Herman Miller's design philosophy, the affordability of the Embody model creates a perception problem.
"I completely understand that Herman Miller is, traditionally, a higher-end chair maker. There are many strong ergonomic features of this chair. But for the price it is, and the features it has compared to other, less expensive ergonomic chairs, I'd spend my [smaller amount of] money elsewhere," she said.
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Those features, plus the Herman Miller branding and the length of the warranty, could suit the more affluent target audience for Embody: pro players, streamers and hardcore hobbyists.
"This chair, it will be an investment for users, but with that investment comes a confidence in quality and a warranty," Campbell said. "These chairs are actually tested to simulate 12 years and 24-hour usage for those 12 years prior to a chair actually being launched into the market."
There's no doubt that what Logitech G and Herman Miller built has many practical applications that a casual player could benefit from -- or someone whose gaming chair has now become their office chair during quarantine. But the lack of an affordable model more in-line with a standard gaming chair price makes it seem like an ergonomic chair has to be expensive, Dr. David Amirrezvani said.
Amirrezvani, a physical therapist who works in esports medicine and performance, said he was excited when he heard Herman Miller was partnering with Logitech for a chair. The current racecar-style seating trend, he said, is "horrendous," and Herman Miller's reputation has made the company a monolith in office furniture business.
But Amirrezvani is also practical. He has had the same $70 chair he bought off Amazon for five years now, and he and McGee both said there's only so much having a good chair can do. If you're relying on it to improve your health or rectify bad habits, then you're attacking the problem the wrong way.
Seeing companies put a high price on ergonomic essentials for a category of buyers who aren't well-versed in health and fitness frustrated Amirrezvani.
"You can't deny the quality of the products they produce, but at the end of the day I've never thought that it's quote-unquote worth it," he said. "They had an opportunity to bring in a demographic that is in need, and that's where I think they dropped the ball."
Regardless of the opinions on price, though, Logitech and Herman Miller are bringing ergonomics into the front of mind with their new model in a community that needs to pay more attention to the field -- and less time in racing chairs.
"If this forces the other gaming chair companies out there to take a look at themselves and what they're doing," Amirrezvani said, "then that's a step in the right direction."