Title screen from the story's opening video
|Website||What football will look like in the future|
|Launch date||July 5, 2017|
|End date||July 15, 2017|
17776 (also known as What Football Will Look Like in the Future) is a serialized speculative fiction multimedia narrative by Jon Bois, published online through SB Nation. Set in the distant future, the series follows three sentient space probes that watch an immortal humanity play an evolved form of American football in which games can be played for millennia over distances of thousands of miles. The series debuted on July 5, 2017, and new chapters were published daily until the series concluded ten days later with its twenty-fifth chapter on July 15.
Bois began developing 17776 in 2016. Because the story incorporates text, animated GIFs, still images, and videos hosted on YouTube, new tools were developed to allow it to be hosted efficiently on the SB Nation website. The work explores themes of consciousness, hope, despair, and why humans play sports. 17776 was well received by critics, who praised it for its innovative use of its medium and for the depth of emotion it evoked. In 2018, the story won a National Magazine Award for Digital Innovation and was longlisted for both the Hugo Awards for Best Novella and Best Graphic Story.
It is followed by a two-part sequel series: 20020 released in September to October 2020 and 20021 planned for release in 2021. The sequel series follows a 111-team game of college football on fields spanning 236 million yards across the United States.
The story takes place on an Earth where humans stopped dying, aging, and being born in 2026. All social ills were subsequently eliminated, and technology preventing humans from any injury was developed. In the United States, American football evolved to include new rules, including those that allow fields thousands of miles long, hundreds of in-game players, and games millennia long. Over time, computers gained sentience due to constant exposure to broadcast human data.
By the year 17776, the space probe Pioneer 9 (called Nine) has gained sentience and made contact with Pioneer 10 (called Ten) and the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (called Juice). As Nine adjusts to a world radically different from that of the 20th century, the three space probes watch multiple football games occurring across the United States: a game using the entirety of Nebraska as a field in which the next point scored wins the game; a game in which players strive to possess every existing football signed by Koy Detmer; a game played between the Canadian border and the Mexican border deadlocked for 13,000 years at the bottom of a gorge in Arizona; an NFL regulation game between the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers that changed over 15,000 years into 58 playing teams owning and capitalizing upon portions of the field while the ball is lost; a 500 game that results in the destruction of the Centennial Light; and a game in which the possessing player is attempting to score an automatic win by hiding in his team's end zone for 10,000 years.
17776 is read by scrolling through pages occupied by large GIF images and colored dialogue text, interspersed with occasional YouTube videos. The story is divided into chapters, which were originally published in daily installments between July 5 and July 15, 2017.
Bois wrote and illustrated 17776 for Vox Media's sports news website SB Nation, of which he is creative director. Aside from 17776, Bois produces two other recurring, humorous video essay programs for the site: Pretty Good, which focuses on unusual sports topics and stories, and Chart Party, which focuses on statistics and has an emphasis on Bois' use of visual art in his journalism and storytelling. Bois is also known for the Breaking Madden series, in which he attempted unusual scenarios in the Madden NFL series of video games.
In early 2016, Bois began developing an "anti-sci fi" project as a possible sequel to The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles, an earlier work for SB Nation, and set the story in a year far enough in the future that "nobody ever thinks about it." Although he liked the concept and the visuals, he believed the project would not connect with readers and shelved it. Later, he realized that the story needed a centering character; he wrote one in the form of a small town, AM radio talk show host before coming up with the characters of the probes. Development renewed in May 2016, and the project solidified after SB Nation published its article "The Future of Football." Bois described it as the biggest project he ever attempted.
The series was developed by Graham MacAree, who used a Vox Media tool that creates custom packages from standard article sets to give Bois creative leeway and to accommodate the series' weight on the SB Nation website. MacAree found that there were few resources online for achieving the desired effects.
Bois has stated that he had "conceived  to give the reader a good time," asserting that this "was literally the whole point."
William Hughes writing for The A.V. Club described 17776 as concerned with why humans play sports: "That is, given the massive resources, time, and information at our disposal (not to mention those available to our descendants), why does communal game-playing still hold such an important place in society?" He also listed consciousness, hope, and despair as among the work's themes. Beth Elderkin of io9 described it as "a deep thought experiment into what we consider humanly possible". She also felt that Ten and Juice take on the role of angel and devil, and she suggested the two may be unreliable narrators. Ian Crouch of The New Yorker felt that the work had a "tonal echo" of Don DeLillo's 1972 novel End Zone due to thematic similarities "with the way that the order and logic of football might act as a counterbalance to the chaos of the real world".
According to the communications director at Vox Media, 17776 garnered over 2.3 million pageviews by July 10. Two days later, it had received more than 2.9 million pageviews. Average engagement time was over nine minutes, and 43 percent of readers finished each installment of the series published by July 7. On July 19, Bois claimed that 17776 received 700,000 unique visitors and 4 million total pageviews, with an average engagement time of 11 minutes.
Thu-Huong Ha for Quartz described 17776 as "part Italo Calvino, part Peter Heller [author of The Dog Stars], with humor seemingly from within the depths of Reddit," saying that the story would appeal to fans of both sports and literature. Tor.com described the first chapter as full of tension and felt that receiving answers is a "surprisingly heartbreaking" experience "lessened by a gleeful bouncing immaturity" one would not expect from the characters. Beth Elderkin at io9 said the series is "akin to Homestuck" and described it as "weird, complex, and pretty spectacular". William Hughes writing for The A.V. Club felt that 17776 is a "truly innovative piece of work". After reading the first three chapters, Agatha French of the Los Angeles Times stated that she was "impressed and excited by the innovation" of what she saw, and that she was intrigued despite not knowing what the work is or is saying. She felt the work took full advantage of its online medium and suggested that it "may also be a glimpse into the future of reading on the Internet". Ian Crouch of The New Yorker described the series as, "despite its seemingly meagre parts, a thing of startling beauty". Of the chapters published by July 12, he felt "the most striking chapter" to be one that utilized audio of Verne Lundquist calling the end of a 2013 game between the University of Alabama and Auburn University over a video panning over Earth. He also noted that the series was compared to Homestuck and relayed additional comparisons to Thomas Pynchon novels and "a Reddit thread hijacked by robot trolls".
The series won the inaugural National Magazine Award for Digital Innovation from the American Society of Magazine Editors; this was the first National Magazine Award nomination and win for SB Nation. It was described by the judges as "an extraordinary combination of art, fiction and technology, an online acid trip that had to be experienced to be believed." It was also longlisted for the Hugo Awards for Best Novella and Best Graphic Story in 2018, ultimately finishing in 11th place in both categories.
On September 28, 2020, a sequel titled 20020 was launched on Secret Base, a branch of SB Nation; on October 13, it was revealed to be the first part of a two-part continuation with the second half, 20021, planned for release in the winter or spring of 2021. One chapter of 20020 was released every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday beginning on September 28 and ending on October 23. Both parts of the series are expected to run for twelve chapters.
It focuses on a similarly lengthy, interconnected, 111-team competition based on college football. The sentient space probes featured in 17776 return, with Juice serving as the game's designer and commissioner. 20020's format largely resembles 17776's with a more involved use of Google Earth-based YouTube video storytelling interspersed regularly into the narrative.
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- Crouch, Ian (July 12, 2017). "The Experimental Fiction That Imagines Football-Obsessed Americans in the Extremely Distant Future". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on June 13, 2018. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Funke, Daniel (July 10, 2017). "This SB Nation story has everything: Robots, football and 2.3 million pageviews". Poynter. Poynter Institute. Archived from the original on September 4, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Bois, Jon (July 24, 2017). "17776: Questions and answers". SB Nation. Archived from the original on September 4, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Bois, Jon [@jon_bois] (July 6, 2017). "today is day one of the biggest project i've ever tried. it is called 17776" (Tweet). Retrieved July 25, 2017 – via Twitter.
- Hughes, William (July 6, 2017). "The future of football is post-human despair (and fascinating sports meta-fiction)". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Elderkin, Beth (July 9, 2017). "Sports Site Dives Into Scifi with Series About the Future of Football". io9. Archived from the original on September 17, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Bois, Jon [@jon_bois] (July 19, 2017). "over the last two weeks, 17776 got four million pageviews and 700,000 unique visitors. people stuck around for an average of 11 minutes" (Tweet). Retrieved July 25, 2017 – via Twitter.
- "You Don't Know It Yet, But You're Reading a Hilarious Sci-Fi Short Story". On Our Radar. Tor.com. July 6, 2017. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- French, Agatha (July 12, 2017). "Radiant children, the future of football and eau de literary hero". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 2, 2018. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- "New York, the New Yorker Lead Ellie Pack - National Magazine Award 2018 Winners Announced" (Press release). New York: American Society of Magazine Editors. March 13, 2018. Archived from the original on October 19, 2020. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
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- "2018 Hugo & Related Award Statistics" (PDF). Worldcon. 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 29, 2019. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
- Bois, Jon [@jon_bois] (October 13, 2020). "PROBLEM: the giant football game in 20020 is way too large, there are 111 teams and 134,000 miles of field, we'll never be able to talk about this entire thing in just 12 parts SOLUTION" (Tweet). Retrieved October 14, 2020 – via Twitter.
- MacAree, Graham; Bois, Jon (September 28, 2020). "20020 Open Thread". SB Nation. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
- Dunn, Thom (September 30, 2020). "SB Nation has launched a new sequel to '17776: What Football Will Look Like In The Future'". Boing Boing. Archived from the original on October 2, 2020. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
- Huckins, Grace (October 23, 2020). "18,000 Years From Now, People Will Still Play Football". Wired. Archived from the original on January 27, 2021. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
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- Silcox, Nicholas R. (May 2018). Making Space in the Anthropocene: 17776, (Un)Worlding, and Speculative Fiction (MA). Rutgers University. doi:10.7282/T37H1NXS.