Insights - Design & Product

r/place : Internet Culture in a Nutshell

Reddit’s ambitious experiment, r/place, was resurrected in 2022 and provides a blank digital canvas for netizens. How did they interact with each other and what did they create? In the answer, says guest author Sivaprakash, lies the best and worst of the Internet

Image of r/place 2022

Reddit has always used April Fool’s Day as an opportunity to connect with users through unique social experiments. 

The Place (r/place), their 2017 experiment, was a massive success compared to Button (2015) and Second (2021)

Reddit brought r/place back this year in what was possibly its most ambitious return ever.

Reddit announcement of r/place 2022

What is r/place?

Reddit set out to find out what millions of netizens would collectively create if  given a huge, free blank canvas.

The only rule was that you could place only one ‘tile’ (a coloured pixel) and wait five minutes before placing another: organised, non-spammy chaos.

Image of r/space announcement

Fun Fact: This idea was conceptualised by Josh Wardle, the  brain behind Wordle.

Round 1: 2017

When r/place debuted in 2017, the 1000×1000 pixel canvas was open to creators for 72 hours. Approximately 1.2 million redditors collaborated to create the largest art project in history, painting the million-pixel canvas with 16.5 million tiles.

Image if 2017 r/place
r/place circa 2017

People collaborated, built alliances and fought battles to defend their territories. Discussions happened in subreddits and private Discord chats. The end result was nothing short of a work of art!

Memorable paintings like Mona Lisa and A Starry Night were recreated.

Mona lisa and masters recreated in pixels
Famous works of art were recreated in r/place

Innumerable national flags competed for their territories, but ultimately declared truce by sharing hearts at their borders. In the case of Germany vs France, an EU flag was created with a peace dove.

Images of country flags with heart and dove
Brazil, Argentina and Finland shared a heart. Germany and France shared an EU flag

Fandoms sprinkled their pop culture references through the canvas.

Image of fandoms  pop art r/place
Clockwise from top left – Rocket League, DOTA, Rick & Morty, How to train your Dragon, CS;GO, One Piece

And then came the Void and Blue Corner

The Blue Corner was among the first destructive factions. Starting from the bottom right corner and spreading like cobalt wildfire, they retreated after facing backlash from the community.

Image of blue void r/place
The Blue Corner spread like a blue wave, before retiring to a corner after facing backlash

The Void, however, had a nihilistic purpose: Destroy every artwork in its path by colouring each pixel black, like a tear spreading through the canvas. Many hated it, while others saw it as a vital part of the r/place ecosystem: Like a forest fire making way for new life. 

Image of black void in r/place
The Void spread like a black tear across the canvas.
Many smaller communities tried to fight it and defend their memorials

5 years later: r/place 2022

When the eagerly-awaited canvas was resurrected on 1 April, 2022, some familiar images from the original r/place popped up quickly. Initially the same size as 2017, the canvas expanded to twice its width on Day 2 and was  four times the size of the original by the end of Day 4.

r/place 2017 and 2022 side by side
The canvas in 2022 quickly grew to four times the size of the 2017 one

The Blue Corner immediately occupied the bottom right corner. The Void started appearing in pockets, threatening to swallow communities whole.

Black void in r/place
The Void immediately started spreading through the canvas, creating an ominous form

The art that started to emerge included various flags: country-specific flags as well as LGBTQ and pride flags. The Ukrainian flag and an image of President Zelensky, expressed support for the country against the ongoing Russian invasion.

2022 trans flag and Ukraine
The Pride flag above and the art created by the Ukraine team below.

India created their flag and added the Taj, India Gate, tigers and an elephant which rubbed noses with Denmark’s goose. France was busy pouring itself a drink after creating its flag, while Dutch recreated paintings by the masters. 

IMage of India and French r/place art
A partial glimpse of art created by Indian and French teams

Fans of the popular game Among Us, lived up to their name by infiltrating and adding little imposter crew mates inside the art.

Among Us imposters feature in r/space
Among Us fans added little imposter images in existing art

With the exploding popularity of Internet influencers, there’s always a threat that they could use their fanbase to wreak havoc and that’s exactly what happened.

Popular streamer, xQc decided to be an agent of chaos, leading around 100,000 of his followers in vandalising artworks painstakingly created by smaller communities. 

Picture of streamer XQC
xQc contributing to the Void

Meanwhile, streamers like Ludwig received love for creating and restoring wonderful pieces of art. 

Pop culture art by Ludwig
Ludwig and his followers created tributes for Avatar: The Last Airbender, My Neighbour Totoro and Cowboy Bebop

Anti-Void: The end of r/place

On 4 April, 2022, redditors on r/place encountered a stunning end. The community was finally left with only one colour tile: white. 

Image of white sweeping r/place 2020
Whiteout: Back to square one

With no other choice, they erased all the work they did over the weekend. Millions of users destroying the art they created was a bittersweet reminder of the transient nature of creation and perhaps life itself.

A Time Capsule of Collective Effort

r/place is essentially the Internet’s time capsule. It showcases the evolution of popularity in video games, anime, film, TV series and almost everything.

This kind of experiment is not an original concept. Some early similar examples on the Internet were the Million Dollar Homepage in 2005 and Twitch Plays Pokémon in 2014.

r/place showed how humans come together to interact with each other. We are all eager to carve our individuality, but at the same time, we are driven to create something greater together. r/place also represents everything we have come to dislike about the Internet and the real world: Toxicity, factions between communities and an influencer culture crushing smaller voices.

8 Comments

  1. Good experiment, nicely narrated by the author. Reveals the mindset of todays mankind. Creative and destructive forces will continue to coexist each throwing their weight.

  2. This was an absolutely brilliant read. Goes to show how humankind is.
    The last line sums it up. – We are all eager to carve our individuality, but at the same time, we are driven to create something greater together

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