What was once known as simply “playing video games” has now become a multi-billion-dollar global entertainment industry. Gaming has steadily risen in popularity year over year but saw incredible growth during pandemic quarantines, as it allowed people isolated at home to participate in the social interaction they were missing. What’s more, most people didn’t quit playing when the lockdowns ended. As popularity continues to rise, more time—and money—is spent playing and new gamers are logging in every day.
Gaming is not just for kids and casual players, either. Of the estimated 3 billion gamers worldwide, about 80% are over 18. According to a report from Accenture, gamers may spend a weekly average of 30 hours on game-related activities:
• 16 hours of game play
• 8 hours of watching or participating in game streams
• 6 hours interacting in game forums or communities
This is often on top of 40+ hours per week spent in front of screens for work or school, meaning people could potentially be sitting in the same chair for periods of not just 8, but 14–16 hours per day.
With the growth of gaming comes a worldwide boom in esports. There are pro and amateur competitive leagues, organizations, teams—and thousands of individual players—all over the world. In North America alone, more than 175 colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and offer officially recognized varsity esports programs. Just like live sports, there are venues to watch players, live-streamed competitions and events—and a huge following.
While they may not fit the typical “athlete” stereotype, esports players are athletes in every sense of the word, pushing their bodies and minds to the extreme. Some play for hours on end—often sitting for 8–12 hours a day and recording upwards of 500 actions per minute via a keyboard and/or mouse. Sitting for this long while maintaining intense concentration and constant keying/mousing has been shown to lead to a host of esports health issues—from stress and fatigue to carpal tunnel syndrome, and there have even been collapsed lung instances, which appear related to sitting in a hunched posture for so long.
The nature of gaming puts players at risk for well-being concerns and injuries, similar to those employees face in an office environment, including:
Slouched Postures – Research has found that when we sit in slouched postures, our brains have to work harder to evoke positive thoughts or perform cognitive tasks, as compared to when we are upright.
Sedentary Activity – One study found that 40% of gamers do not participate in any physical activity, and 15% reported 3 or more hours of sitting without taking a break.
Musculoskeletal Pain and Injuries – These are most commonly related to the neck, back, wrist, hand, and shoulder.
Computer Vision Syndrome/Eye Health – Several studies have shown 50% of gamers and esports athletes report eye fatigue.
Stress and Anxiety – Mean heart rate has been found to increase significantly during gaming and is believed to be caused by stress, which does not provide the benefits of heart rate increases from traditional exercises.
While there are many calls to action in esports and the gaming industry, finding ways to decrease these risk factors and injuries is the key to removing player discomfort, which will allow players to focus better and longer. Having a good ergonomic setup is essential for any gamer or esports athlete.
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One of the most important tools a gamer or esports athlete should invest in is a good ergonomic chair that anyone can adjust for their personal needs and comfort. At a minimum, a gamer should look for a chair with adjustments in:
• Seat height
• Armrest height and width
• Seat depth
Taking it a step further, it’s important for each gamer or esports athlete to be able to support their preferred playing posture:
• Sitting upright – An adjustable lumbar can offer tailored back support.
• Recline – A chair with adjustable tension may be important.
• Forward lean – A chair with forward tilt support may be beneficial.
No matter what posture a gamer or esports athlete sits in when they play, here are some additional points to consider:
• The torso-to-thigh angle should be 900 or greater, whether sitting upright, reclining, or leaning forward.
• The seat pan should allow 1–3 inches between the calves and the front of the seat.
• Feet should be flat on the floor or footrest, or resting on an ottoman.
• Armrests should provide support for forearms without pressure points and should not interfere with getting close to the surface.
• Players should keep upper arms and elbows close to the body with elbow angle between 700 and 1200.
• Wrists should be straight when playing to avoid tendon and nerve disorders.
The gaming surface is where the action is, so it’s important that it supports an ergonomic setup, too. The top should allow for comfortable positioning, just below the player’s sitting elbow height. Underneath, there should be appropriate clearance for the legs and feet—not touching the thighs and allowing room for movement. Additionally, the surface should provide support for the display, game controllers and input devices, as well as any other equipment needed.
Display/screen placement should follow these recommended ergonomic guidelines:
• Height should allow the gamer or athlete to play with the head in a neutral upright position.
• The top of the screen should be at or below eye level. However, people who wear progressive lenses will need to place their screens lower.
• The player should be able to view the entire display with their head in an upright posture, at a downward gaze.
• Monitors should be adjustable for distance from the face, height, and angle.
• The display should be centered in front of the player.
Aside from the gaming space setup, movement—while playing, working, or at other times—is also important in boosting cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. This in turn helps improve gaming performance.
There are 3 layers of movement—posture, position, and location:
Posture is not just about having the right ergonomic equipment for support. It involves training your body to sit, stand, walk, and lie in positions that place the least amount of strain on the body. Good posture maintains the correct muscle tension to apply the appropriate amounts of pressure on the joints and ligaments.
Position change involves a significant shift in the body’s weight distribution, as in moving from a seated position to standing or vice versa. Position change, including exercises you can do right at your desk, helps improve blood circulation, reduces swelling, and enhances musculoskeletal comfort.
Location involves walking (or skipping or jogging—or whatever suits you) to a different place. Changing location stimulates cognition, creates opportunities for connection with others, and reduces the potential for musculoskeletal disorders associated with long-term static postures.
Having the right supportive ergonomic equipment and following best practices for the 3 layers of movement will benefit any gamer or esports athlete. It’s also important to maintain healthy living habits, like eating a nutritious diet, staying hydrated, exercising, and taking time to relax. All of these will contribute to overall well-being and boost performance, which is ultimately the gamer’s goal.