It all started with a tweet. I’d been browsing Twitter while waiting for my pizza to finish cooking and one of the people I follow closely had retweeted Jon Bois’ tweet (the one linked above, if you haven’t looked at it yet). Curious about what some random guy though the future of football (specifically, U.S. football which shall be referred to as “football” in the rest of the review) would hold and interested because of what seemed like a bit of a weird comment in the retweet, I decided to click the link. I caught a glimpse of something weird further down the article and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to scroll down for a look and, instead, started reading the article to figure out what was going on. When I finally started scrolling down, I had a moment of panic followed by several long minutes of confusion. Thankfully, everything became clear in time.
Honestly, I recommend you go look at that link if you haven’t already. Just go, read through the first bit of the article linked in the tweet, and then follow through until you’ve got to click on something to get to the next part. The first steps of this journey were so much fun to discover on my own that I don’t want to take that away from you. Go, click the link, and then come back here once you get to the end of the first bit and you can then read the rest of my review without worrying about having anything spoiled for you. Seriously. I’ve only got so much ability to take up space here before I run out of things to say and get down to writing the rest of this review which will include spoilers. Well, spoilers for the first part. After that, I won’t be revealing any further spoilers and, honestly, this story doesn’t really have spoilers. There’s no major mystery to be uncovered, no real plot to develop. It’s an article. A think piece. Something to make you wonder.
AND EVERYTHING BELOW THIS LINE IS GOING TO SPOIL THE FIRST SECTION.
Because the entire thing is a story about the purpose and changes to football for an imaginary future set some 15,000 years in the future after Humanity suddenly stopped aging, being born, and dying. All of which is relayed to you through characters who turn out to be satellites that, through the millennia, gained sentience and now just kinda hang out in space, chat with each other, and check out the games people are playing on Earth. Turns out, football changed a lot after people became effectively immortal, what with the end of entropy (so no one ages or dies of “natural causes”) and the installation of a nano-tech safety net that keeps people from accidentally dying or intentionally killing people. It is no cross-country football and some games take decades to complete. Part of the story even covers a game going on for over 10,000 years. The first game is shown as one of the players runs toward a tornado. As it turns out, their strategy was to get sucked up into a F5 tornado and then thrown in a random direction in order to lose the defenders that had been closing in on her. She wouldn’t get hurt because the nano-tech safety net would cushion her fall and keep her safe from getting hit by debris in the tornado.
There are a lot of rules in football that are still the same, such as tackling, turn over, downs, etc, but a lot that clearly aren’t. There’s a whole section devoted to discussing how the rules changed and how they have kept changing. It turns out that the first huge changes happened during an NFL game where one of the teams discovered they had the legal ability to claim ownership of part of the field. That led to teams fracturing into smaller teams who then claimed ownership of other parts of the field, which lead to a game that can’t end because no one can reach an end zone, no one knows where the football is, and there are residential buildings, skyscrapers, and grocery chains in the way. And people still show up to watch. The interesting part is how the game is used as a metaphor for the development of humanity. The rules started fairly simple, but they grew more and more complex as people tried to wring more specificity and personal benefit out of the rules until it got to the point where people were outright exploiting the overly convoluted rules for individual gain rather than to support their team or the sport as a whole.
My favorite part of this whole series of articles was that it was more of a story about human potential, the quirks of humanity, and the way we all search for meaning even when it seems like ever self-assigned meaning is meaningless. In this distant sci-fi future, humanity rose to their utmost potential and hit a wall. There was nowhere else for them to go now that all of their problems were solved (since immortality and sustainability mean there’s no reason to compete and living forever really gives people the incentives to take care of their world and the whole race) and it turns out that there’s not much in space but distant chunks of rock covered in various non-intelligent stuff. Sure, immortal humans could travel the universe since their speed doesn’t really matter, but they don’t want to, just like they don’t want flying cars and perfectly peaceful, easy lives. Humanity doesn’t want everything to be super easy or always new. They want old, familiar things for the most part. They want the life they’ve known and to eventually reach a point where things don’t change that much. They want to watch weird football games, have a decent day, and struggle with relatively minor problems like stubbed toes and disgusting hamburgers at Burger King.
The whole piece, disguised as a discussion about futuristic football, is really a think piece about meaning and the future. There’s plenty of football references and the like, but it’s mainly used as a widely available reference for metaphors about trying to find meaning in existence. Immortal humans created a set of rules for a football game that has been going on over 10,000 years, but that hasn’t majorly changed in years because all the players are stuck in a gorge, unable to climb out because the cliffs are too steep to climb when you’ve got people trying to pull you back into the water. There’s a guy who is hiding in a cave for ten thousand years so his team wins by default since their score is so far down that there’s no chance of them making up the difference and he keeps himself entertained using those little handheld sports games from the nineties. There are humans whose goal is to meet everyone they possibly can. They create all kinds of games and rules, giving themselves difficult, time-consuming goals to pursue so that there’s some point to every day they will live through.
The whole piece, whose inner depths and interpretations I’ve barely scratched, will take you a couple of hours to experience. There are videos, long bits of text, doctored images, 3D modeled bits, and a lot of big thoughts to consider, all told through the story of Pioneer 9, the spacecraft, finally achieving sentience and wondering what the hell is going on after all this time. The multimedia presentation of the piece can be a bit difficult to take in all at one, so I suggest taking your time with it rather than trying to read it all in one go like I did. Despite that, it is still an incredibly clever bit of writing and arrangement that was a ton of fun to read and experience. I suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.