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Office chairs vs. gaming chairs: Does it really matter?

With tens of millions of dollars in marketing spent on both sides, we take a look at why it's most important for potential buyers to think about themselves, and not ad copy, when buying a chair for either purpose.
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Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on

You might wonder why the differentiation between office chairs and gaming chairs really matters. After all, an office chair won't eject you from it if you try to play a video game in it, nor will a gaming chair do the same if you're feeling responsible enough to get some work done. But, for some shoppers and many manufacturers, the differentiation still seems important. 

To understand why this became the case, you need to know some of the features that defined each category. Unfortunately, this is an increasingly difficult task. Even if delineations between gaming and office started out clear-cut, they've become blurred over the years as each side continually borrowed from the other when a new feature arose that its own customers might find useful. The result is a nebulous situation in which it's harder to tell what really makes a seat a gaming chair versus what makes it an office chair, aside from its accompanying ad copy, of course. 

With all that in mind, we're going to dive into the dwindling list of unique characteristics that each side offers, the features you should prioritize when choosing which a seating option, and whether or not any of this even really matters. 

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A mid-priced office chair I've owned for years that has seen thousands of hours of writing...and just as many hours of gaming

Michael Gariffo

What defines an office chair?

This is obviously the far older of the two definitions. People were working in offices centuries before "gaming" was a thing. In their modern incarnations, most office chairs share a handful of characteristics: They're usually on casters, most have one or more forms of adjustment to help them better fit each user, and they're typically padded, though the form this padding takes can vary greatly. 

The general purpose of them is, as one would expect, to help the person sitting in them get work done. They do this by providing a comfortable sitting position for working at a desk while answering phones, receiving visitors, or typing away at a keyboard all day. 

That's really about it. Everything else about an office chair is now so variable that we'd need a list several pages long just to cover a fraction of the possibilities. Their costs alone range from below $100 to several thousands of dollars, with their respective construction materials and designs diverging even more than that gulf in pricing might suggest. Basically, if it's something you can sit in and get work done at a desk, it's probably an office chair. Unless of course, it's a gaming chair. 

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A Secret Lab TITAN Evo I recently purchased to game in. It's also a splendid chair for getting work done.

Michael Gariffo

What defines a gaming chair? 

Like office chairs, most gaming chairs come on casters, typically include arms, have a varying number of adjustments, and can be used at or away from a desk to play games on a console or PC. To the surprise of no one, they can also be used at the same desk to get work done, complete homework assignments, or do whatever else their office-centric brethren can. 

Glibness aside, they do tend toward a more "gamery" aesthetic. Whereas office chairs are typically designed to exude professionalism, gaming chairs were historically created to attract a younger, less buttoned-up audience. This means brighter, more varied colors, ample use of contrast stitching, and a form factor that commonly, but not universally, resembles a seat ripped from a race car. But, even this recognizable template has become less applicable as the product category has continued to diversify. Still, anything that continues to fit at least two of the characteristics I mentioned above is very likely designed for a gaming audience. 

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A Herman Miller Embody Gaming chair, which is almost 100% identical to the standard Embody office chair. 

Michael Gariffo

So what's the real difference? 

Simply put? There's less and less of a difference every day. Take, for example, the arms originally only found on gaming chairs. A decade or so ago, gaming chairs prided themselves on providing the user with far more arm adjustability than their office counterparts. Where most office chairs of the time had rigid or, at best, height-adjustable arms, gaming chair arms could adjust in height, width, depth, and even rotation. The idea was to provide gamers' arms with a comfortable resting position whether they were playing on a mouse and keyboard or using a console controller. 

For several years, this remained a characteristic almost completely exclusive to gaming chairs. Then, office chair makers started to take notice and began to realize those additional adjustments could be just as useful to receptionists, clerks, nurses, customer services personnel, and anyone tired of rigid, inflexible arms that barely supported their elbows as they typed.

This "inspiration" was by no means a one-way street. As gaming chairs grew in popularity, their detractors seemed to coalesce around the category's perceived lack of ergonomics, with a complete absence of lumbar support being a popular criticism. The short-term solution from many manufacturers was simply to add a pillow to their chairs to compensate. 

But, over time, more and more gaming chair makers began including built-in, adjustable lumbar support systems, just like those pioneered by office chairs. Today, two of the top gaming chair makers, Razer and Secret Lab, both have adjustable lumbar systems built directly into their respective flagship lines. 

Secret Lab even makes a chair that skips the upholstery entirely and uses mesh instead, something that was pioneered by Herman Miller's Aeron.

Did I mention there's a gaming version of the Aeron? Yes, one of the most iconic office chairs ever made is available in a gaming edition. Wondering what Herman Miller changed to make it a gaming chair? They made it black, instead of gray. That's pretty much it…seriously. If one of the highest-end office furniture makers in the world doesn't really see all that much of a difference between what makes a good office chair and what makes a good gaming chair, why should we struggle to keep the increasingly useless division intact? 

So which one's best for me, a gamer? Or me, an office worker?

This is what we should all really be asking, especially those of us that fall into both categories, depending on the time of day. 

The answer is either. Rather than looking at what type of customer a chair is being marketed toward, instead focus entirely on what benefits it offers to you and your unique needs, specifically. 

MoreSecretlab TITAN Evo 2022 Series review: The best gaming chair levels up

Do you use a single chair to work from home during the day, get in some competitive FPS gaming at night, and take the occasional weekend nap? Consider any one of the available ergonomically sound, completely understated gaming chairs with headrests and ample recline.  

Are you instead focused completely on the ergonomic health a chair can provide, but still want it to be flexible enough to use in front of the TV? Take a look at any of the many office chairs designed in collaboration with medical professionals that also offer the adjustable arms and high-end support for all of your console and PC gaming use cases. 

More: X-Chair X2 hands-on: I upgraded to a fancy office chair and I'll never go back

The point is that finding the best chair for you is almost completely unrelated to which side of the divide that chair comes from. Instead, it should be based entirely on which features matter most to you, how you plan to use those features, and what kind of budget you're aiming for once you find the ideal combination of those features. 

So what are the best chairs from each side? 

This article was never meant to be an exhaustive list of specific products. Instead, it was created to help you understand how those products are marketed to you is less important than how well their specific feature sets actually suit you. Focus on things like what kind of fabric or mesh feels most comfortable to you, what kind of arms are best for the type of gaming or work you do, and what type of aesthetic suits your home and potential video chat needs.

If you're a serious shopper, I would highly recommend checking in with the many informative buying guides ZDNet maintains precisely to help you find the best seat for you. They've been laced throughout this article, and a few more helpful, related guides can be found below.

I would also urge you to check out our reviews of several of the best, most popular chairs and other pieces of office and gaming furniture linked below. Each of these includes the best options in their category, and every single one offers solutions that would be right at home serving the right workaholic office jockeys, inveterate gamers, or anyone in between. 

If I could offer only one piece of advice on the battle between gaming chairs and office chairs, it would be this: ignore it. Your comfort and aesthetics are what should be important to you. Look for a chair that takes those into account, not one that's primarily worried about which demographic label its marketing department would like to slap on you. 

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