In attending the first PAX in Boston, I couldn’t help but notice an unspoken, but well-managed structure to the event. But the authority is not loud, overly aggressive, nor do they let power go to their head. They’re kind, compassionate, energetic, and seem to genuinely care for everyone’s well-being and fun.
So who are these clearly awesome, and sometimes kilted, men and women?
They are the Enforcers—a group of volunteers whose passion for the gaming community powers PAX events and whose only compensation is a badge and an Enforcers shirt. They help set up the convention hall (that includes hauling those bean bag chairs up to the second and third floors of the convention hall), organize convention lines, help manage BYOC and console freeplay, and maintain peace among 52,290 attendees.
And being an Enforcer isn’t just a weekend-long gig. Even beyond the brief conventions, the Enforcer community members stay in touch through the Internet and get-togethers like Halloween and New Years parties between PAXs.
“[PAX] is one of the highlights of my year. I look forward to it all the time. The Enforcers were started in 2004 and the community that has grown out of it is really the best part,” said an Enforcer from Seattle known as Jbain. (The Enforcers tend to use handles because they’re easier to remember than first-name duplicates, such as multiple Sarahs or Dans).
Jbain has been an Enforcer at every PAX. He added, “I’ve worked other cons in the past and the vibe is different. People volunteer for the free pass, and here it’s much more. You volunteer to be an Enforcer, you volunteer to volunteer, to be with friends and have fun. Sure I enjoy going to panels and seeing the show, but this is where I have my fun.”
“It’s a very welcoming group,” said Lt. Dan, an Enforcer from Boston. “I always wanted to go West, but I never could, so as soon as I heard about PAX East I signed up right away, and within a couple weeks was just hanging out with people.”
For the inaugural PAX East, about 430 volunteers were called to be Enforcers. About 100 of these volunteers were veterans from Seattle’s past PAXs, and primarily held managerial positions. The rest of the PAX East enforcers were selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 applications by Kristin Lindsay, Project Manager at Penny Arcade, Inc.
“Something about how Kristin selects from the applications, we get very dedicated volunteers that are really excited to work and help us out,” said Enforcer Manager Jaberwocky. “Everyone is given a shift in their area, and most of the Enforcers volunteer to work more.”
The most important part of an Enforcer application is not just the applicable job skills listed, but the amount of enthusiasm that shines through.
“I think one of the things that sets us aside from other shows is that we’re not necessarily looking for volunteers just to come and put in a weekend and then leave and never really think back on it,” said Kristin. “We are looking for people who are passionate about PAX and we really want to take an ownership of the show and I think that really ends up broadcasting itself to the community in general at PAX and as a result we couldn’t be more proud of them. They are the spine of the show.”
The Enforcers are typically scheduled to work one shift, which is at most 6 hours, per 18-hour convention day in their assigned department. Some departments are defined by a certain area of the convention center, such as PC or Console Freeplay, while other departments, such as Line Management, are not. Each area-specific department has a manager, who has two deputies. The floating departments have a team of Lieutenants, who are roaming managers who have duties such as troubleshooting problems on the show floor and filling in for PAX organizers if they have to go off-site. The largest Enforcer department is the free-roaming Spare Board, which consists of people who lend other departments extra help if needed. An Enforcer Welfare Team to ensure the Enforcers are rested, fed, take care of every body and manage staff room.
Many Enforcers, however, volunteer to work well outside of the hours defined by their shifts. Enforcers call such overtime hours “blackshifting,” and do so for their love of the gaming community. Many Enforcers volunteer their time because they want to pay back the community.
“Even though there’re so many different flavors of games, we’re all here for one reason and that’s to have fun,” said Michael Pearson, a kilted Enforcer. “And it’s so awesome to be in that environment and be able to help and be able to pay that back to some of these guys that develop the games and the hardware, sell the games and then play the games.”
While at PAX East, I asked a dozen Enforcers about how their weekends were going so far and if they had experienced any annoying attendees, other hang-ups, etc. The responses were overwhelmingly positive and energetic with no complaints.
“In a lot of ways, the Enforcers are no different than the attendees themselves except that they’re wearing a different color shirt,” she said. “So that these are people that would be coming to PAX and want to be part of it and want to be enjoying it all the same and as a result they really have a priority of trying to make the show more entertaining for people.”
While most enforcing jobs have an image of being cold-hearted and stressful, PAX Enforcers and managers make it seem easy, and even fun. There seems to be so much warmth to the group they’ve created, a group that wants to grow with inquiries on Penny Arcade forums asking how to volunteer and be an Enforcer. The strength of the community is also shown through the number of returning Enforcers—two years ago at PAX Prime, there wasn’t any open recruiting because there were enough returnees, said Kristin.
So next time, whether at PAX Prime or PAX East, hug an Enforcer. Bring them cookies. Give back to the people who are giving you so much of their time and energy.
“Being an enforcer lets you make thousands of gamers happy and enhance the gaming community as a whole,” said Jaberwocky. “And that’s the point of PAX. Being able to be a part of that is incredible.”