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Why You Should Work For Free at PAX Australia

Non-Fiction Gaming reader and Sporadic-Editor (working title) ‘Hyphen’ shares her experience on being an Enforcer for PAX Prime and why she’ll be going back for more at PAX Australia.

Pax Australia

It’s a packed exhibition hall. A fifth person has just tried to cut in line to play Star Wars: The Old Republic, and while I’ve remained outwardly calm, inside I’m feeling stabby. I’ve been line-wrangling for three hours, I’m running on about four hours sleep, and I’ve almost completely lost my voice from yelling instructions over the loud noises of the surrounding booths.

I am not getting paid.

And it’s awesome.

Welcome to the world of being an Enforcer at PAX.

Pax Australia
Herding geeks onward to more geeky things to geek out at.

‘Enforcers’ is the name for the volunteers at one of the various Penny Arcade Expos. There are now three PAX expos: PAX Prime in Seattle, PAX East in Boston, and for the first time this year, PAX Australia in Melbourne.

I applied to be an Enforcer on a whim. In 2011, my boyfriend and I decided to go to PAX Prime in Seattle, which he was attending as a developer. I was worried that while he was going to be busy doing secret game-developer things, I would just mooch around as a regular attendee, lonely and afraid in the cavernous exhibition halls.

When I saw the call-out for volunteers on the Penny Arcade site, I decided that it might be a good way to make some friends while I was at PAX. I had no idea what being an Enforcer meant; possibly that I got to enforce things? Maybe things were enforced on me? It all seemed a bit unclear, but I submitted my application anyway. After I was accepted, I began to lurk the Enforcer forums, trying to figure out what I had got myself into. A few months later, I was in the Expo Hall, wearing a blue shirt, wrangling attendees and having a blast.

Pax Australia
Me in Exhibition Hall, with one of the Jokerz from the Gotham City Imposters Booth. Later Batman would hit on me while Catwoman looked on (not pictured).

When you become an Enforcer, you become part of a team of people, all of whom are nerds of some kind, and who are some of the nicest, funniest, dirtiest people you could ever meet. Penny Arcade selects from thousands of applicants for PAX Prime, and chooses people with a wide range of nerd allegiances and from all different walks of life.

Enforcers are a special breed of people, who have decided that the best way to experience PAX is to help others have fun. On the Enforcer forums, one of the oft-quoted lines is that

Rule #2 of Enforcing is: PAX is Not for Us – It’s for Attendees.” (Rule #1 is the underlying principle of “Don’t be a Dick.”)

There are different departments, such as Line Entertainment, Line Management, Main Theatre, Info Booth and many more. I was part of Line Management, which meant I was often based in the Expo Hall, and while it was intense, there was feeling of camaraderie that came with being part of a giant gang of blue shirted Enforcers that roamed the booths, making sure that everything was running smoothly.

But while Enforcing is awesome, it’s not part of some secret backstage pass. The shifts are 8 hours, every day, and Enforcers often volunteer for extra shift if a certain department needs help. Enforcing definitely isn’t for everyone – you have to be able to go without sleep for days, to stay calm when confronted with idiocy, and to problem solve on the run.

Once Enforcers are off-duty, they don’t get special treatment, and there are things that PAX that they inevitably miss out on because they didn’t have time to line up, or because they were on-duty then. By the end of PAX, every Enforcer is exhausted and running on empty after days of volunteering and nights of partying.

Pax Australia
Seconds later, this dog was decapitated, in a chilling lesson about what happens to line-jumpers.

I’ve applied again to Enforce at PAX Australia this year, and hopefully I’ll see some NFG readers there. Look out for me – I’ll be wearing my Enforcer shirt, probably looking hungover and exhausted from drinking in someone’s hotel room the night before, and with no voice from yelling too much.

And I can’t imagine attending PAX any other way.

 To learn more about registering to enforce at PAX Australia go to the official website. See more news about what will be available at PAX Australia, including MC Frontalot and don’t forget it’s in Melbourne.



  1. Miss Hyphen, as much as the fake badge fiasco was a fiasco, I miss you being there by my side. You are an exemplary Enforcer and I miss you ever PAX we go without you.


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