The Axe Files: Notes on an Unusual Case of Participatory / Performance / Entertainment (PPE) Media

Frank Farley, PhD & Lauren Butler, MSc
Temple University & Montgomery County, PA &

Media, and Participatory/Performance/Entertainment (PPE) media in particular, can serve a wonderful escape from the strictures, repetitiveness and humdrum demands of daily life. The variety, novelty, and intensity of some forms of PPE media, particularly those with direct personal involvement and challenges, can satisfy the features of what Farley (see Baumgaertner & Mitchell, 2020) has referred to as “arousal breakouts” – or simply being properly thrilled. Circuses are a wonderful though increasingly rare entertainment media (Farley & Butler, 2017), with only those involving mind-bending physical stunts, think Cirque du Soleil, or antiquated animal involvement, like personal elephant rides, surviving. The perennial worldwide attraction of theme parks and thrill-rides, and the evolution of extreme sports attests to the need for arousal breakouts. Farley (see Sarshar, et al. 2022) has called it Type T Behavior, the thrill(T) value underlying much of extreme human behavior, from the good (T+) such as extreme creativity/innovation to the bad (T-) such as extreme violence. In the current prolonged pandemic climate, we see much T- behavior ranging from peaking risk- related highway deaths to surging statistics in several categories of violence. An interesting PPE medium to emerge across the country recently is that of axe throwing! That is, REAL axes, not computer pixel picks, or pointy darts! In the interest of exploring this commercial medium, the authors visited an axe-throwing emporium, a pay for play medium for viewing and doing axe throwing against walls and targets across varied distances. This venue was in Philadelphia, a city with one of the nation’s highest homicide rates, making for an unusual locale for the entertainment of throwing large axes around… Our observations and reflections on this experience follow. 

The venue offered a large, friendly environment in an old wooden converted warehouse, with open space reaching outside for good weather and an outdoorsy feel. All seemed simple and old-fashioned, with paper scorecards to record performance, no computers in sight save for small card readers. Digital in this venue meant hands-on, all in a rustic and comfortable aesthetic. Almost a countrified atmosphere fitting for a throwback tool like an axe, but which has morphed into a novel entertainment for bored people seeking an edge. An arousal breakout during slow times. It may also fill a specific niche in entertainment we may not have known was there. You know, throw an axe and they will come! Interestingly, as some evidence for the staying power of this undertaking, the venue had play leagues, like sports leagues, and a party-like atmosphere could arise at a group session. Not much time is spent on ‘training’, the thrill is the throw. And a big part is viewership—watching, warily, excitedly! The venue was careful, of course, in the entire process, given the safety risks. A ‘coach’ was present for every group that was performing and only those who had been called forward by the coach could ‘do the throw’. Even when taking pictures at the end, always popular, patrons were asked not to take pictures that could be seen as illustrating violence, something many people might have in mind for a fun pic. The staff reiterated “this is not a weapon….” This novel form of PPE media is accessible to any adult, does not require excessive strength, and skill can be acquired by most individuals fairly quickly, though it definitely carries a tinge of danger, given that one can walk in and minutes later is throwing axes! It is very geared toward groups. Staff told us it’s become popular for team-building exercises, notably for corporate offices! (We felt it might be a Wall Street natural.) It certainly would make many workplaces more fun and interesting, an arousal breakout session beats an office meeting any day.

Where does this form of PPE media go next? We note the recent appearance in some commercial venues of “Escape Rooms,” providing intense problem-solving experiences influenced by differing themes. And such Type T experiences as sky-diving have now moved indoors for watching and/or participating in!

Welcome to the edge.


Baumgaertner, E., & Mitchell, R (December 8, 2020). Car crash deaths have surged during COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why. Los Angeles Times,

Farley, F, & Butler, L (2017). Performance media: Notes on an ancient medium, still wondrous. The Amplifier Magazine, Fall/Winter Issue.

Sarshar, M., Farley, F., Fiorello, C., & DuCette, J. (2022). T behavior: Psychological implications of thrill-seeking/risk-taking behavior. Current Psychology, 41, 200-207

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