A year of PC gaming with a standing desk


A year of PC gaming with a standing desk
Photo credit: Cordelia McGee-Tubb

For the past year, almost all of the time I’ve spent playing PC games has been upright, with both feet firmly planted. When I decided to switch to a standing desk, I wasn’t curious about the (“disputed,” according to Wikipedia) health benefits. I just wanted to give my gaming setup a makeover. If gaining Chun-Li legs was going to a side-effect of playing CS:GO all day, great. But I was mostly concerned with refreshing the look and feel of my desk area.

A year later, I couldn’t be happier with my setup. If I can help it, I won’t play PC games in a chair at home again. Here’s what I’ve learned after more than 12 months of playing PC games upright.

Do it yourself

There are a ton of pre-built standing desks available on Amazon. And almost none of them are suitable for PC gaming. Many of these desks feature questionable keyboard trays or terraced stands or, hauntingly, both. These configurations aren’t conducive to how I like to play: with a wide, spacious, fixed surface for my mouse and keyboard.

I cobbled together a standing desk from old and new IKEA parts, a variation on the “Utby Underframe” build I saw online. I used pieces of galvanized steel pipe to link two 47×24” Ikea tabletops, one of which I’d cannibalized from my old “sitting” desk. The 4” gap between them is where my peripherals sit, hiding my mouse and keyboard from the tabletop.

Because I possess zero engineering sense, I made some mistakes that required a couple days of effort and a trip to Home Depot to resolve. But I’m really happy that I built the desk myself. It’s infused my gaming space with a greater feeling of ownership, something that I think PC gaming naturally invites.

If you want a standing desk, you should build a standing desk. Like your PC itself, it’s a project that you can adapt based on how handy you are (up until that point my resume consisted of picture hanging), what your monitor configuration is, and how much money you can spend. The last thing you want is a hundred-pound block of wood off of Amazon that doesn’t suit your needs.

Side note: Ikea recently started offering a standing desk that Wired suspiciously calls affordable at $489.

Called upon my 7th grade shop class skills to make a standing desk. Curious to see how it affects gaming. pic.twitter.com/dlgPkLp3MS

— Evan Lahti (@ELahti) October 1, 2013

It’s uncomfortable, at first

The first two weeks of using my standing desk wasn’t the revelation in posture and personal health that I thought they’d be. Within an hour, my knees ached. My ankles got sore. I shifted my weight around a lot uncomfortably. It reminded me of Sunday afternoons spent trapped while my family wandered JCPenney.

Some of this discomfort was my own fault. I figured that the surface I had beneath my desk, some shaggy Ikea carpet, would be fine for standing. Nope. Then I tried a yoga mat—folded over itself—as a stopgap, but that barely alleviated my angry joints.

A $20 anti-fatigue mat on Amazon was what I needed. I can’t emphasize this more: if you’re running a standing desk, you need a proper mat under your feet. It isn’t optional. I’ve since completely adapted to playing while standing, to the point where I can play uninterrupted for three or four hours. (And that amount of time before I feel uncomfortable is actually something I like—read further down the page.)

My standing setup also prompted me to switch to a wireless headset. One of the things I found about a standing posture is that it naturally made me want to move around, either as minor relief from standing or, say, to jump in excitement after a victory. (Another habit I’ve gained is running into my kitchen while I’m queued for competitive CS:GO, listening in for a match to be found while I mash together some combination of bread and cheese.)

Anyway, having a cord attached to my head inhibited that; I felt tethered to the desk, and I hated it. I’ve used Steelseries’ H Wireless headset since, which has all the qualities (after audio quality) that I like in headsets: durability, breathability, comfort, a good mic, and hardware mute/volume buttons.

On page two: the biggest benefit I’ve experienced from switching to a standing desk.

A year of PC gaming with a standing desk

Adjustable height is essential

Four $30 Ikea Gerton legs were the most expensive part of my build. I spent the first several days with the desk trying out a few different heights, and this adjustment process was key to finding the ergonomically correct level for the keyboard (forearms parallel to the ground) and the monitor (eyes level with about the top of the monitor). Having a monitor that I could change the height of was helpful too. If you’re building a standing desk yourself as I suggest, make as many parts of your setup vertically adjustable as you can: a lot of folks add a dedicated monitor stand.

The modest fatigue that I feel while playing is actually useful.

I spend my gaming time more deliberately

By far the most positive change I’ve noticed while using a standing desk is that gaming has come to feel like less of a passive activity. Being vertical while playing CS:GO or Dead State or Shadow of Mordor makes me feel more present in what I’m doing.

And the modest fatigue that I feel while playing is actually welcome: it’s made me less likely to linger pointlessly at my desk. I spend far less time crawling YouTube or lurking Reddit. I eat dinner at my desk less often, a habit I wasn’t completely proud of.

It’s not a dramatic difference in mindset, but gaming feels like a more deliberate activity to me today than it did a year ago. I’m conscious of what I’m doing as I’m doing it, and I want to spend that time playing the best stuff I can. Having a tablet has helped, admittedly, so that I can transition to the couch for a break every hour or two to scan Twitter or read comics.

A side note: I mostly play FPSes, but turn-based or slower-paced strategy games in particular have become more fun to me while standing. I can’t fully explain it, but being upright grants Sins of a Solar Empire and Xenonauts some extra seriousness. Standing made me feel more like a commander.