Missives from PAX South

Last weekend was PAX South.

If you’re not familiar with PAX, here’s the scoop. Penny Arcade Expo, or “PAX” for short, is a major gaming convention held several times a year throughout the USA and the world. There are currently four PAXen: West, East, South, and Australia. 2016 was the second ever PAX South, and I’m pumped that I was able to attend. In addition to seeing tons of cool things at the expo, playing lots of board games, and attending a couple panels, I also volunteered for a few hours each day as an Enforcer. (The name is supposed to be evocative of rebar, not a bouncer.) Very similar to judges, Enforcers are the hundreds-strong group of volunteers who staff the various theaters, organize lines of attendees waiting for panels, and generally keep PAX running smoothly.


One thing I noticed was how much I was using my phone around other people, especially during meals. On Friday, the first day of PAX, I used my phone quite a lot during lunch (somewhat justifiably — sending time-sensitive emails), as well as during dinner (far less justifiably — decompressing by playing games).

This cycle seemed likely to repeat at lunch on Saturday — until Bryan Hare suggested we all play “the cell phone game.” Everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table, and the person who touches theirs first has to pay for everyone. So in practice phones just go away.

The experience was honestly pretty liberating. We repeated the experiment at breakfast on Monday, with similar results. While two data points are far from conclusive, I think removing cell phones from the equation is an incredibly effective way of fostering deeper conversations where everyone is more fully present. It also jives with the advice I’ve gotten from others about the risk of becoming “a guy with a laptop.”

Further reading:


My Enforcer assignment for the weekend was Tabletop. Tabletop is the part of PAX where board game geeks of all shapes and sizes can borrow games from our huge lending library and play them with their friends for as long as they want. And for those who want a little more competition in their lives, Tabletop also runs tournaments, with fame, glory, and a shiny medal all up for grabs.

Although this was my third time Enforcing, it was my first working Tabletop, and I had a blast. One thing I especially want to call about is that on Sunday, our manager, Andi, ran one of the best wrap-up meetings I’ve ever been part of. Andi made me realize that we judges have a lot of room for improvement in how we run wrap-ups at Magic events. I’m trying to operationalize what made Andi’s wrap-up so great, and how I can implement those ideas at events in the future. Stay tuned.


I used the word “operationalize” up above. This word’s a bit uncommon, so let me try and give it a definition (without getting too bogged in technical details). Basically, “operationalizing” something means examining something that can’t be directly measured, studying how it works, and exploring how it can be replicated.

To give specific examples: Radical candor emerged from Kim Scott’s attempt to operationalize the most effective elements of Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership style. The L3 Qualities are a way of operationalizing the answer to the question, “What does it mean to be an excellent judge and leader?”


Three is a good number, and a good number of stories to tell is three. Until next time, may you ponder how your own weekend experiences can help you become a better judge.

One thought on “Missives from PAX South

  1. I’m so pleased you had an opportunity to work with Andi! She (and the rest of the TT leadership, including Joe and Ian) are very close friends of mine, and excel at challenging me regularly to be a better person. I’d credit her in particular at least partially for some of my growth as a judge, so I’m not surprised to hear your experience gave you some takeaways to apply to your judge experiences 🙂

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