A Whole New Way To Play Video Games: Standing Up

It's not every day you discover a whole new way to play video games. Yet over the past month, I've done just that—I've found a way to play games that makes me feel better, more alert, healthier, and more involved. How have I accomplished this? I've started playing video games while standing up.

"Oh, damn it," you're probably saying, vigorously tapping a fresh pack of cigarettes on your palm while gazing into the middle distance, "Another article about the perils of sitting."

And yeah, that's what this article is. But really, it's just my story—I didn't anticipate how much I'd like standing, so I thought I'd share the story of how I came to start playing video games (and working) while standing up.

***

Since I started working for Kotaku full-time a year ago, I've found myself sitting a lot more than I used to. I spent seven years as a music teacher, and I used to bike to school every day and spend a few hours on my feet in front of a class, directing a band. My day-to-day didn't feature all that much sitting! I also had a more flexible schedule, and would run in the park just about every day. What sitting I did was broken up by long periods of standing, walking, running and bike-riding.

When I started writing full-time, that changed. I don't have time to run most days—I spend my shift sitting in front of a computer, and when I'm reviewing a game, my nights are spent playing it. During the 2011 fall video game rush, I found myself sitting down for 12 hours or more with minimal standing breaks, often for days on end.

A Whole New Way To Play Video Games: Standing Up

Every day, it seemed I saw another article about the perils of too much sitting. Sitting is bad for you. Sitting for more than 11 hours a day greatly increases your chances of dying in the next three years. Exercise won't counteract it, either—sitting is, itself, a damaging thing to do to your body. But really, I didn't need to read those studies—I only needed to listen to what my body was telling me.

My energy levels had plummeted. My digestion felt weird, and I was never hungry. My legs would ache when I'd stand; they'd feel swollen and "off" somehow, like they weren't getting enough blood. My lower back became more prone to painful freakouts, especially when I'd sneeze. Basically, everything from my ribcage down was asking me, repeatedly, "Dude, what are you doing?"

My body did not like my new lifestyle.

At the same time that I'd seen all of these articles about the dangers of sitting, I'd also seen more and more people talking about the merits of standing desks. I began to read. Here's what I learned:

  • It's best to try converting your desk into a temporary standing situation before buying an expensive standing desk.
  • It's not healthy to stand ALL the time; it's good to take breaks and keep a balance. Still, standing for the majority of your day is better than sitting for the majority of your day.
  • Your feet will get sore, and it's good to get some sort of pad or wear comfy shoes.

Okay, I thought. I can give this a shot.

***

I started homemade; I took a shelf off the bookshelf in my kitchen and placed it on two coffee cans, upon which I placed my monitor. I put another piece of wood on top of two cardboard boxes, and put my keyboard on that. Before long, I had a desk at which I could stand and work.

It didn't take long for me to realize that, yes, this was something I was interested in. After a couple of days working while standing up (only working, mind you - playing video games didn't come until later), I already felt better, stronger, and healthier. My legs were sore (in a good way), my posture was good all day, and I felt more focused as I worked. I decided to invest in a standing desk.

A Whole New Way To Play Video Games: Standing Up

(Humorous Ergotron marketing materials.)

I did some research and found that thankfully, there are a ton of options for people interested in standing desks. The problem with a lot of "office solutions"-type products is that they're priced at business prices, so if you work from home like me, you're going to pay a premium for a product that's mostly sold to million-dollar businesses. For example, the Geek Desk is one hell of a piece of hardware, but it starts at $800. Too much money, especially considering that I have a big, nice $500 desk that I really like.

I eventually settled on the Ergotron Workfit-S Single HD Workstation, which costs $379. The nice thing about the Workfit is that it attaches to your existing desk and can easily convert between standing and sitting. You want to check how much your monitor weighs before ordering the HD or the non-HD version—you'll need a heavier monitor to make the HD version lower properly. On a bit of a whim, I went ahead and ordered one.

It arrived a few days later, and I quickly set it up (it was, thankfully, really easy to put together). I'd already been working standing up for a couple of weeks, so nothing much changed except that the fact that I was now able to sit down for periods of time during the day, and my whole setup was more ergonomic and adjustable than before. I had been operating under the assumption that I'd want to use the sitting-down setting to play games, so I hadn't been playing many PC games. But then, I had a thought: Maybe it'd be fun to play games while standing up?

***

The weekend after I got my standing desk set up, the Guild Wars 2 beta was happening. I've been interested in this game for a number of reasons, mainly because it looks like a lot of fun and like it might welcome non-MMO players like me to the fold. I got into the beta and decided to do an experiment: I'd play through the beta weekend while standing up.

A Whole New Way To Play Video Games: Standing Up

(My actual standing desk.)

Saturday morning, I got up, logged on, and started playing. Standing. And it was great. A lot of times MMO-style PC games can make me tune out a bit after a while—it's probably due to years of console controller usage, but I don't always feel as engaged at the mouse and keyboard as I did when I was a kid. The moment I stood up, that went away entirely. I felt present and connected to the game in a way I hadn't in a while, alert and easily able to manipulate the game to do my bidding.

Anytime my feet felt tired, or I wanted to take a break, I simply slid the Ergotron down to a sitting position and played while sitting. The standing mount brings my monitor much closer to my face than it usually is, which connects me in the game while letting me keep a consistent angle for my head and shoulders. Anytime I need to rest my eyes, I just turn and walk away from the computer, pace around a bit, make a phone call, whatever. Everything feels more fluid, faster, and easier than when I played while sitting down.

***

It didn't stop at Guild Wars 2. My newfound love of standing has now gone beyond traditional mouse and keyboard PC games. I play a lot of games on my PC with a controller—from cross-platform games like Bulletstorm and Far Cry 2 to platformers like Limbo and Braid. It used to be I'd move my PC over to my HDTV to play those on a big screen; these days, I leave it plugged in at my desk and play those games standing up. My new second playthrough of Knights of the Old Republic? Standing. This last weekend playing Skyrim: Dawnguard? Upright.

Playing a first-person game while standing up is a heightened, highly enjoyable experience. It sounds a bit silly, but when I play Far Cry 2 while standing, I feel more connected to my silent avatar—after all, he's standing too, isn't he? I don't exactly role-play it—I don't kneel in the bushes and take a knee when sliding—but I do feel more physically involved in the game.

In other words, standing has begun to move beyond health for me—it's started to actually make the games better. And when you think about it, it makes sense—many of our first gaming experiences involved standing at arcade machines, joystick in hand. There's something to be said for returning to that feeling—I never felt listless or uncomfortable when I was at the arcade; I felt loose and free, engaged and awake. It wasn't entirely due to the fact that I was standing, but it certainly didn't hurt.

***

I'm a convert at this point—I'm not going back to sitting anytime soon. There are still a few things I'm thinking about picking up—some sort mat like this sublime one will make it easier to go barefoot all day, and I might get a hoverbar stand for my iPad so I can put it next to my monitor to use as an auxiliary screen (though damn, $80 is a lot to spend for that.) But by and large, my new setup allows for so much flexibility, from writing for work to producing music to playing games, that I would feel really restricted going back to a regular desk.

Just as standing helps me focus when I work, it helps me focus when I play.

I realize that the idea of standing up while playing games probably strikes a bunch of you as sheer lunacy, the antithesis of everything you think of when you think "video games." Video games are supposed to be something relaxing, something we do at the end of a long day, or during the weekend! They're a way to blow off steam, or to kick back and get lost in another world!

I understand where you're coming from. Although when I think about it… most games I play aren't relaxing at all. They require focus and discipline, they challenge me and force me to be on the ball. They're a lot like work—fun, exciting, rewarding work, but work nonetheless. And just as standing helps me focus when I work, it helps me focus when I play. And while you may think "I would get tired, eventually I'd want to sit down"—well, that's the great thing about an adjustable desk. You can play however you want, though you might find that standing is preferable.

But I can't go back; I'm hooked. And I'm as surprised as anyone! What started as an experiment to improve my work day grew into something that's slowly reshaping the way I play games. So I can only recommend giving it a shot—use some boxes or loose boards and build up your desk. Try standing for a couple of days. It won't be easy, and it'll take a little bit of discipline. But you may just come to the same realization I did: There's a whole new world in the upright and locked position.

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