And takes the internet by storm
Brooklyn has 5pointz, Berlin has Mauerpark, Venice Beach has its art wall, and the internet has r/place. The iconic art experiment was hosted on Reddit, one of the internet’s most frequented social spaces. Initially a singular event, r/place was brought back this year, with even more fun and fanfare than before.
What is r/Place?
In case you missed it the first time around, r/place is a Reddit board that hosts an open online canvas. Created in 2017, the original canvas consisted of one million pixel squares, and registered users could edit by changing a single square to one of 16 colors. Users were limited in how often and how quickly they could fill in more colors, with timers locking them out from around 5 to 20 minutes.
The experiment ran for three days, from April Fools’ Day 2017 to April 3. Over those three days, a million unique users visited the canvas to put their own daubs of digital paint. Thousands more visited and admired the canvas. Two weeks after the experiment was complete, the page was archived, bringing the glorious experiment to a close. The experiment spawned teams, rivalries and memes that lasted long after the original board was archived.
Who created r/Place?
Josh Wardle, creator of the viral word game Wordle, also created r/place. The connection seems pretty clear, considering the similarities between the Wordle tile aesthetic and the one-pixel-at-a-time conceit of r/place. Wardle, originally from Wales and now a resident of Brooklyn, New York, was an employee of Reddit at the time of the initial experiment.
r/Place was conceived and developed as the annual April Fools Project for 2017. The project was meant to explore an aspect of humanity — specifically how an individual affects the collective with a single action (in this case, changing the color of a single pixel). While it was meant to be a one-off project, r/place took off in a way no other April Fools project has.
And so r/place was brought back, by popular demand.
r/Place 2: 2022
On April 1, 2022, r/place rose again, with the canvas wiped clean and reopened for users to visit and paint. This time, the canvas was open for a total of 96 hours, with the experiment ending on April 4. This sequel to an already majorly successful event drew even more users, with 72 million pixels placed by over six million users over the course of the experiment.
The 2022 version, as all true sequels do, made the canvas bigger and better: the canvas was expanded twice, and more color options were added each day, with a total of up to 32 colors. On the last day, the experiment took on a new twist, restricting users to only using white pixels, thus eventually returning the canvas to original blank state. Watching the time-lapse footage of the event is a work of art itself, with the canvas looking truly alive, pulsing with activity, until burning up like an overexposed photograph in a wash of white light.
As of this writing, the subreddit has yet to be archived, leaving many Redditors intrigued that the moderators may have something up their sleeve. Or perhaps it will remain simply as a monument, for Redditors to visit and post about their favorite moments and memes.
The Art of r/Place
R/Place is an ever-shifting shrine of pixel art, one of the first purely digital art forms. The original canvas hosted numerous country flags, reproductions of the Mona Lisa and Starry Night, splashes of blue and black voids, and of course, memes. The original art project was a resounding success, bringing Redditors of all stripes together to create a prismatic tableau of internet culture.
In the 2022 version, country flags reappeared, though not as prominently this time around. Most notably, the Ukrainian flag appeared multiple times on the canvas. The leaf on Canada’s flag had some trouble solidifying itself, but eventually got there.
Various memes and pop culture icons also came and went: Star Wars, the Triforce, the Wall Street Bets guy, characters from One Piece and Among Us, Doge, and so, so many others. Replicas of fine art, such as Michelangelo’s Creation, The Scream, and Girl with a Pearl Earring popped up, as well as the occasional black voids that dragged across the work before disappearing.
Community and Rivalry
The 2022 event also brought back some factions that had formed the first time around. Redditors of certain nationalities would come together to protect their flags, such as the Turks and the Canadians, and the black void returned: some determined to have it consume as much of the board as possible, and others fighting against its spread. Certain fandoms also came together to create something on the canvas. Altogether the creators, of varying nationalities, fandoms, and ideologies, embodied the spirit of friendly competition.
As r/place already had some hype behind it this time, word got around fast and streamers and bots got in on the action, sometimes attempting to spoil the fun. Most notoriously, Twitch streamer xQc had his followers raid the canvas to paint an image of a butt (supposedly 2B’s, a character from the 2017 game Nier: Automata), which led to the image getting censored and many of the offending artists to getting banned from the subreddit. Suspected bots were also banned from participation.
Emulators and Opportunists
After the original r/place event ended, many users wanted to keep the magic going. Timelapses and screenshots were created and saved. An atlas was created to explain and preserve the various works, as well as the Reddit communities behind them, And clones of r/place sprung up so anyone can participate any time, pxls.space being one of the closest to the original.
From the 2022 iteration, Redditor Simto1 created a Geoguessr game out of r/place, and fans are already going hard on their merch game, including an IRL canvas, hoodies, blankets, and car decals.
And of course, now that we’re in the age of NFTs, someone got the idea to capture some slices of the canvas and turn them into NFTs. Young Kobe minted 28 pieces of the canvas and listed them for sale at .025 ETH — as of press time there has yet to be a bite for any of these slices.
The Meaning of r/Place
Still, this second event was overwhelmingly celebrated as four days of pure fun for the majority involved. Taking part in the joy of creation is one thing, but to share it with millions of others across the world really is something special.
Just like the pixel art, many observers noted that r/place feels like the internet in its more bygone days, a place for people of all stripes to come together and create something amazing.
While this spirit can sometimes feel tinged with nostalgia, it’s important to know how it feels, so that we can recapture this spirit in the internet of tomorrow. Web 1.0 is long gone, and can only be found in odd corners like this one, but we can build something new that has that same spirit of community and possibility. Until then, we’ll take that spirit wherever we can find it.