I’m not a fan of Football; I used to be, but I’m not a fan any more.
For a whole year in high school I really appreciated the sport and the way it worked. I appreciate the tension, the physicality, the strategy, the character of sports announcers (still do) and the roars of the crowd. I live in New England so it was pretty easy for me to be interested in the New England Patriots. I think I was still in that part of life (and always will be, to varying degrees) where I was shaping my identity around anything I could find that made me happy.
And during my sophomore year of high school, it was football, but it didn’t last very long. It was the year the Patriots almost had a perfect season and lost at the end. It was like some sort of metaphor for the hope, fear and failure we experience in life. I was crushed and remember when they lost during the Super Bowl and I decided to go play some Halo 3. The next morning was cloudy and seemed to reflect my mood, I gave up on watching football after that.
Maybe that makes me a “fair weather fan” or something. I don’t think that would be an unfair claim from someone and I can see why someone would say that. I think, more than anything, I realized how much emotion, time and energy I had invested into something I in fact had very little control or say over. It felt different than a TV show or a video game where there is often a happy(ish) ending, one that could placate me and say it was worth it. Football didn’t have that.
And maybe that’s the point for some people. Football (and sports more generally) aren’t always a Cinderella story or a story about David vs. Goliath or a story about the undefeated team staying undefeated team. Sports can be wildly unpredictable and that’s the fun of it all…for some people. Unpredictability was never a big plus for me, being autistic.
So imagine trying to go from this highly emotional, unpredictable and easily invested in form of play and turn it into a forecast for the future. Imagine trying to capture the spirit and meaning of this one sport and laying it out and covering a society, an entirely world with this sport. Would this future be a happy one? A bleak one?
That’s one of the questions we can ask ourselves while reading Jon Bois’: What Football Will Look Like in the Future.
Before going any further into this article please click that link. There be spoilers ahead!
If you don’t wanna take a few hours of your time, here’s a rough recap:
WFWLLITF is a futuristic sci-fi about the planet Earth and the space around it. What would happen to humanity if we suddenly couldn’t die anymore? What would we do with all of our free time?
Bois has the answer: It’s football.
This may seem ludicrous (and it is) but it’s fascinating in all of the best ways. There are parts of this interactive fiction that will make you laugh, make you cry and maybe make you do a little bit of both. Bois brings up tough problems about fame, life, death, work and play and of course, football and its everlasting appeal.
But why football? Why would we keep playing football? Why aren’t people playing baseball? What happened to soccer? Does England and Europe more generally keep refusing to call one the other and vice versa? Bois doesn’t get into these kinds of questions and instead keeps things focused on what football might look like…as the title suggests.
And the results are spectacular. There are all sorts of games that people play that they call football that almost no one would recognize as football today. You’ve got your cannons, local weather patterns such as tornadoes, lost and found football items from centuries ago that turn into a sort of treasure hunt and so on.
The characters are varied but mostly revolve around three space probes. Our main protagonist (and the audience’s way to understand what is happening) is named 9. I won’t go into too much detail here but suffice it to say 9 is very old (despite its name) and is joined by a few other space probes who round out the plot, emotion and humor.
Of course the most pertinent question for this site and its follows are: What’s happened to work?
We Perpetually Hang Out
In one section one of the probes (10) says:
Sure. Some people have jobs if they feel like it.
I think it’s natural for us, for you and me, to have a tough time understanding that. We’re both products of 20th century America. In that time, if someone had a job, it was their identity. That isn’t true anymore.
And 9 responds:
We don’t…do anything right? There’s nothing we’re supposed to be doing
This is a depressed sort of response from 9 who is, understandably, rather confused about the state of the world.
But it’s important to be clear that work isn’t the only sort of “doing”.
Technically, people playing football are doing things. They may not be getting paid for it (or perhaps they are) but they’re still physiologically doing something with themselves. And more importantly, they’re creating meaning for themselves in a world that they cannot die in. That’s an important achievement to revel in, especially given the circumstances.
10 keeps the conversation going by saying humans “completed their mission” 15,000 years ago, but similar to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche I have my doubts that humanity has some sort of “mission”:
No one is responsible for a man’s being here at all, for his being such-and-such, or for his being in these circumstances or in this environment.
The fatality of his existence is not to be disentangled from the fatality of all that has been and will be. Human beings are not the effect of some special purpose, or will, or end; nor are they a medium through which society can realize an “ideal of humanity” or an “ideal of happiness” or an “ideal of morality.”
It is absurd to wish to devolve one’s essence on some end or other.
We have invented the concept of “end”: in reality there is no end. (Twilight of the Idols)
But 9 isn’t convinced, they believe the people down one earth are “wasting” their time playing football and “shooting the shit” but 10 remarks that if there’s an unlimited amount of time, can you ever really waste it?
Can these people truly be said to waste something that they will never run out of? And especially if they’re enjoying themselves and creating meaning for themselves and fighting against boredom, why try to make such a subjective thing as “wasting time” into an objective evaluation of people’s actions? If it gets them through the day, let it do so.
And while some games seem more absurd than others, if it helps the people get along with their lives and makes them feel like they can keep going, then why not? It helps people deal with their immortality and want to keep going. And it isn’t just about people passing the time but also living that time too. If these “meaningless” games help that, then I’m not going to say that these people are wrong for doing so.
Ultimately, I agree with 10 when they say:
And now boredom is their only enemy. And they get up in the morning and fight it every day of their eternal lives. Recreation and play sustain them. Football sustains them. And if you find yourself in a football game that’s such a gargantuan, task, that seems undefeatable, that will claim eons of your time and passion?
I think that makes you one of the lucky ones.
The story is cut up into “chapters” and I’m going to just cut from the ones I found interesting. One of those chapters mentions a “county clerk” and that you can get a “summons” to show up to football. Do people still have prisons? Police? Why would you need any of these things now that people can’t die? What’s the point?
Bois doesn’t say much but here’s the quote I’m referring to:
Well, I should’ve taken it! Because you know what happened is, next day, the county clerk shows up here in person, slaps an envelope right here on the bar, says, “Henry, I’m sorry to do this, this here is a summons to dress for Iowa and report to Cedar Rapids!”
So I head out there, mostly just wander around Linn County with a flashlight, no idea what I was doing. Never saw the fella who had the ball, I guess they caught him in a corn field somewhere.
Someone responds to this by saying that if there’s so little interest in a game that you’re forcing people to play it, you probably shouldn’t have the game at all. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to say but it also extends to much of anything that relies on coercion, capitalism and government included.
This is another section where we’re asked, “When does play become meaningless?” And perhaps the answer to this question is, “Never, not so long as people have values to imbue play with, which they most likely always will.” And so even ridiculous examples such as this carry a lot of weight and meaning for people, despite the absurdity.
Maybe this proves that play will be an inexhaustible resource of meaning for human beings or maybe it proves that without a clear focus and concept, people will lose most notions of coherence over a long enough period of time. Bois is nuanced in this like many things in this story but it’s not treated as necessarily good or bad either way, it just is.
Intermission Pt. 2
(CW: Brief discussion of suicide/harm)
A brief discussion about post-scarcity is had here.
Why wouldn’t we want that sort of future? 10 explains that post-scarcity presumes that time is still limited. But if time is infinite then what is the point of being more efficient with your technology? Just get it to as good as you need it to be and then stop making improvements from there.
This is a fascinating take on post-scarcity that I’ve never heard and it seems to hold some truth. If people have all of the time in the world then it won’t really matter if things don’t always run as quickly or are as readily available as they need to be. But now I’m thinking about people who want to die? Do the nanobots race to them and forcibly keep them alive?
What happens to folks who try to starve themselves? Or try to kill themselves through chemicals or some sort of quick way like a gunshot wound to the head or a slit of the wrists in the bathtub? What happens then?
Bois doesn’t comment here.
Intermission Pt. 3
This part grapples with a larger question of meaning. What happens if we never find anything out in space? Does the meaning of life change for us? Should we just be happy with what we have and accept that there’s nothing else Out There or that if it is, it’ll take so long that it may as well take forever?
These questions inform how people are trying to use play to their advantage. When there’s almost nothing left to explore on earth (which Bois also spends a little bit of time talking about) then whatever is left is just what to do with ourselves and exploring that much, seeing what we can still find. For Bois, play seems to help us get by and do just that.
Intermission Pt. 4
Here Bois gives us a synoposis of human beings as “creatures of play” and says they always will be. But whether that’s a good thing or not, whether that makes the struggle more worth it, whether that means work does or doesn’t have a place in that struggle is, as usual, not answered. And perhaps that is both the strength and weakness here.
“A few minutes ago my whole universe was spinning. All that stuff Ten told me, I just couldn’t make sense of it. And I still can’t, and I don’t think this is helping me do that at all. But I do feel better. Thanks.”
“lol well if you ask me, thats what all these games are for
you know? because i mean i know what you mean, right? because ive been thinking about it for thousands of years and i still get fucked up about it, the idea that play is the point of existence now. and i cant really wrap myself around that, so i find a game to watch.
the point of play is to distract yourself from play being the point.”
Games have a very intrinsic sort of meaning to them and I’ve discussed that before, here.
Lacrecia Evans is a “lovable loser” who has never caught a football in centuries.
She keeps going because it’s “something to do”, she needs something to work towards that has clear lines of failure and success. It keeps her going and gives her motivation to get up every morning. She needs a “dragon” to kill every morning because otherwise it’s like feeling like you’re going to be buried alive any second.
While Lacrecia’s sister has entered a “zen like state” and does the same thing every day. It’s the exact opposite of Lacretia but it makes her happy all the same. This possibly shows that humans will find various ways to keep themselves preoccupied and feeling fulfilled. Maybe some folks will always be trying to conquer a challenge while others will be content to do the same thing every day. I think I’m more of the former, but I can sympathize and indulge in the latter.
Lacrecia repeats something we’ve heard similar already here:
And the thing is, I do that while completely knowing that this game is dumb. I could wake up tomorrow and catch a ball worth 500 points. So okay, and? And then what? Maybe I get in the Hall of Fame and I get on TV. And then what after that?
But it’s like, on some level, I still have to grab on to that. I still have to have a mission, any mission. The harder, the better. And that’s why I count myself lucky that it’s turning out to be so hard.
A growing theme in Football is that those people who have a lifetime (within an infinite amount of time) of struggle, of challenges, of difficulty are actually the lucky ones. They’re kept busy, they constantly struggle and try to get something meaningful and worthy out of it. And perhaps these folks are better off then those who just let the centuries pass them by.
I can understand this viewpoint and I think there’s a lot to it. Writing is a challenge and I’ve been thinking about the fact that I have multiple projects going on at once. I have my comic book, my erotic novel, my essays, this site, podcasting, making music, keeping up with friends and developing relationships old and new, etc.
All of these things are a constant challenge and although it can be draining it can also be very rewarding as well.
Speaking of books, there’s this really funny part of the conversation where…well…
I think your phone’s ringing?
Oh. Yeah … it’s my coach.
Well, I can leave you alone if
I’m not worried about it. I guarantee it’s about the publisher … she keeps wanting me to write a book. All she talks about.
Ah. So she’s more of like an agent, I guess?
Little bit, yeah.
That’s really exciting!
What, a book? Nah … that’s really nice of you to say.
Aw, you should write one! I’d read it.
Nah, they’re too long. It’s basically asking someone to pay 15 bucks to be on the other side of a one-sided conversation that goes on for days. You’ve got to be a total asshole to want to write a …
Well…she’s not wrong.
There’s another theme running throughout this book and it’s the theme of scarcity.
CAnd not just economic scarcity but also the scarcity of experiences. The scarcity of mystery in the world is declining as people have infinite lives in which to explore the universe and themselves around them. Is this a good thing?
This section has a great section that sums up what Bois is getting at:
You’re still on Question Three. Why’s it called Eleven Jones Cave?
Nobody really agrees on the story there. The most boring answer is that it was near a couple of properties owned by guys named Leven and Jones, and the name just kind of morphed out of that.
The more fun story is that in the 1800s, there was a gang of bandits known as the Eleven Jones Gang. They lived in the cave and built bedrooms out of its little corridors. They installed an iron gate in here to protect all the stolen treasure they stashed here. If you believe all the stories everyone ever told about this cave, there’s tons and tons of treasure back here. There’s a Confederate sword from the Civil War. There’s a cannon, for some reason.
Is any of that stuff really in there?
Pass. I pass on that question. Ask another.
What? Why won’t you tell me?
I’m gonna go ahead and call that one Question Four. I don’t want to tell you because I don’t want to deprive you of mystery. Uncertainty is our greatest scarcity. You should be delighted to not know something.
Well, I don’t agree with that! That’s why I’m on this hike. To find out as much as I can about the land and the people who live here.
You’re an asshole.
You’re an asshole! You have all the time in the world. Infinite time, and just a little bit of mystery. Ration it.
It’s my choice to make. It shouldn’t matter to you.
It’s going to matter to your future self. What if it’s 50,000 years down the road and you’re all out of mysteries? Mystery is an exhaustible resource. If you depend on that to make you happy, you better start saving it instead of gorging yourself like a little piglet.
Know where that’ll leave you? You’ll have nothing left to explore in the world, so you’ll look up at the stars, waiting for galaxies to collide. You might see it happen every couple million years. The whole time you’re waiting, you’ll wish for some old forest to discover, some open house to visit. There won’t be any.
I bet then you’ll remember what I told you.
And then there’s this part:
You ever wonder if this is Heaven now? You ever wonder if we’re all just there now and we don’t know it?
I’ve thought about that. All of us have. There’s a lot less people who go to church than there used to be, because that’s what a lot of people think.
But I don’t think so. But I think about it. And I think, well, I can’t be. Because I’m like you, I kinda look at the big long life ahead of me that stretches out forever and disappears. And I get scared. And I think, “this can’t be Heaven if I’m getting scared, right?”
And then I think, “maybe I am in Heaven, and Heaven is scary.”
I know exactly what you mean.
And these are considerations far removed from abolishing work in some ways, but they’re still interesting ideas I highlighted and wanted to bring up. What if our brightest futures actually live like a nightmare?
Take us home, Nancy McGunnell:
Nancy: I watched the Browns a lot.
Pioneer 9: Oh, they’re good!
N: You were made in 1968?
N: You’d better check your residual memory.
PN: Oh wow.
I started watchin’ ’em because my grandpa was always a big fan. They were bad, they just stunk up the field every week. I think in 2026 they went 3-15, something like that. I loved that about them.
Because you know, I’d flip around all the channels on the satellite box, and all the shows were about people winning, people succeeding, people getting happy endings. And even in sports, you know, even if a team was having a bad year, it was just kinda their turn to be bad, and in a few years they’d be good again. And I’m sitting on my sofa thinking, a lot of good that does me! I don’t know anything about that kind of life! I don’t need to see all these stories when I’m sitting in this dusty little house with an oxygen tank. Just don’t need it.
But the Browns, I knew they’d always be there. They’d always lose. I got up every morning, it hurt, and at night I’d go to bed. They’d get up every Sunday, get the tar beat out of them, and they’d show up the next Sunday to do it all again.
I loved that. I loved them, I felt like
I mean, I felt like I was one of them.
Life isn’t always about the happy endings, sometimes it’s the never-ending struggle and journey.
And maybe, just maybe, if we’re all lucky enough, we’ll find that one thing that keeps us going for a long time.
If we’re even luckier, it’ll make us happy.
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Edit: Bois answered some questions here in late July (particularly about presidents), check ’em out.