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 space probes that have gained sentience and watch 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. The work incorporates text, animated GIF and still images, and videos hosted on YouTube.
The series 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 winter 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 of the intentions of the work "as conceived [...] to give the reader a good time. That 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 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 it 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 has] seen" 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".
- Ha, Thu-Huong (July 8, 2017). "A dazzling new piece of experimental fiction is being serialized on a sports news site". Quartz.
- Russell, Lars. "SB Nation's Jon Bois shows Seahawks are "Least Volatile" in NFL". Field Gulls. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
- Crouch, Ian (July 12, 2017). "The Experimental Fiction That Imagines Football-Obsessed Americans in the Extremely Distant Future". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- Funke, Daniel (July 10, 2017). "This SB Nation story has everything: Robots, football and 2.3 million pageviews". Poynter. Poynter Institute. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
- Bois, Jon (July 24, 2017). "17776: Questions and answers". SB Nation. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
- Bois, Jon [@jon_bois] (July 10, 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. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
- Elderkin, Beth (July 9, 2017). "Sports Site Dives Into Scifi with Series About the Future of Football". io9.
- Bois, John [@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. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
- French, Agatha (July 12, 2017). "Radiant children, the future of football and eau de literary hero". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- "Ellies 2018: @SBNation wins Digital Innovation category for "17776: An American Football Story"". Twitter. ASME. March 13, 2018. Retrieved July 17, 2018.