In late 2019 Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière launched a capsule collection with Riot Games, celebrating the latter’s mega-popular multiplayer game League of Legends. The line, which offered $1,000 crop tops, $2,500 baby backpacks and a $345 charm bracelet didn’t promise any kind of gaming performance enhancement, but it did foretell the arrival of an influential design direction pitched at a rapidly growing market.
According to numbers from IKEA, the ubiquitous Swedish furniture retailer launching its own, far more functional gaming collection this month, there are 2.5 billion gamers in the world, ranging from hobbyists to paid professionals. Accessible (read: affordable) design dedicated to this group however, is lacking. Chinese manufacturer Lian Li, for example, makes luxury gamer desks capable of housing customized dual water-cooled PC systems that are genuinely beautiful to look at. They sell for around $3,500 – and that’s before factoring the cost of the computer build.
Companies like IKEA are aiming to democratize the market while maintaining an aesthetic appeal. No, their new desks, designed in partnership with ASUS’s Republic of Gamers, don’t have Lian Li’s glass tops that go from clear to opaque at the push of a button, but they are height adjustable, sell for only $79, and can go from workstation to battle station as required.
“The whole idea behind the collection,” says Alicia Carroll, IKEA Canada’s director of events and experiences, “is that it actually could be multipurpose. By day you might be working from home using this collection, and then by night you might be setting up your gaming.”
Indeed, design that’s good for gamers is great for the home-office worker, since it’s the former who invest the most time in front of screens and whose demands on comfortable, functional, well-designed furnishings are the hardest to meet. “One of the key learnings through workshops and through Republic of Gamers is that gamers do use [their stations] for longer periods of time than the average office worker,” Carroll says. “So the whole thinking is that this collection of products should support them from an ergonomic standpoint to enhance their gaming ability and to provide comfort … and well-being”
The well-being of gamers is also on other brands’ radar. Canadian online eyewear retailer Clearly recently launched a line of glasses designed specifically for gamers and streamers that aims to safeguard eye health while enhancing performance, by increasing contrast sensitivity to images on the gaming screen – and they’re far more stylish than some of their tech-meets-eyewear forebears (see: Google Glass).
“I think the best designs are actually when you put function first and you let that function organically dictate what type of form the product should take,” says Dr. Justin Asgarpour, an independent optometrist and the brand’s chief vision and mission officer who runs the clinical and optometrist division of Clearly and heads up the brand’s philanthropic activities. “That’s what we’ve done here. We have a good understanding of the needs of gamers, the current pain points, and how we can alleviate that with a very functional pair of glasses that inherently look good as well.” In terms of addressing gaming needs, Clearly offers a comfortable, lightweight line of eyewear that features a slimmer silhouette to accommodate headsets and an adjustable nosepiece to prevent slippage during play. They also come in 11 different styles with additional colour options.
More importantly, the glasses protect eyes from the high-energy blue light that radiates from our screens and can cause oxidative stress on the retinal tissue in the back of the eye, potentially exacerbating macular degenerative issues. In addition to that, the blue light absorbed after a long evening of gaming can disrupt our sleep cycles. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, exposure to certain types of light during the usual hours of sleep can suppress the sleep hormone melatonin by more than 50 per cent.
Clearly says its BlueReflect Plus technology not only combats both of these issues, but it can also make wearers a better gamer. Asgarpour explains, saying that the lenses are “reducing the amount of blue light to help improve contrast sensitivity. When you’re gaming and you want to see things as perfectly as possible, it’s nice to eliminate that blue light to allow a little bit better contrast and performance as well.”
Phillips is another manufacturer taking gamer needs and aesthetics into consideration. Its Hue wireless lighting system, a smart, bluetooth enabled home lighting system that can be controlled via an app, is offered in a setup customized for gamers. The Play Light Bar can be synchronized to respond to gaming light levels – setting a mood, helping with screen contrast and looking cool while doing both. For players engaged in more physical, full-body games as well as virtual workouts, Taiwan’s HTC Corporation is adapting the traditional VR headset to fit those needs. Its ultra-lightweight VIVE Air headset prototype takes a page from sneaker design, incorporating breathable, washable material into a product ideal for sweaty sessions.
In many ways, emerging gaming technologies are widening the parameters under which design can be done. Just a few years ago, the personal computers favoured by gamers ran too hot to be encased in anything other than your typical aluminum, steel or plastic shell. Now, thanks to water-cooling technology, typical components, from processor to power supply, can be housed in desks that double as works of art like the ones built by gaming enthusiast and craftsman Mads Alexander Krogh Simonsen, who is based in Aarhus, Denmark.
A personal trainer by trade, Simonsen, who creates his pieces under the moniker MA Modified, picked up carpentry as a hobby, deciding to build his PC-in-a-drawer desk as a kind of personal challenge. Referencing the standard gaming setup, Simonsen explained the inspiration for his design: “Everyone has [their computer] standing on their desk sitting next to the monitor. Shouldn’t we have it in the desk? Like, why didn’t we just start there?”
Of course, that’s simpler to say than to do. Simonsen’s meticulous work features finger joint construction, certified ethically sourced wood, and a sleek, water-cooled computer visible through a glass panel on the surface. The desk itself evokes a modern Danish design motif – it’s art, and when the artist decides to sell the pieces, it will be priced as such. Simonsen says that he’ll probably offer his work at around $8,000.
It’s no surprise that gamers like Simonsen are taking the lead in this realm. The community is a DIY one at heart, with entire Reddit channels dedicated to self-built, customized systems and setups. While many small-batch makers offer their designs on personal websites or Etsy, like the gorgeous beechwood, LED-lit headphone stands crafted by AmbiColoredLight, bigger brands seem to be playing catch up – at least when it comes to offering items that are both functional and beautiful.