r/Place and the pixel battle

Since each user can only place one small tile every five minutes, it is impossible to build alone. The five-minute wait time limits anyone’s ability to dominate the web. Instead, users are forced to work together and create coordinated communities to produce collective works of pixel art.

Massive subreddits like r/trees and r/ukraine started orchestrating their campaigns early, collectively filling space with a large marijuana leaf and Ukrainian flag respectively. r/starwars users recreated an entire movie poster. The trans community placed a huge trans flag on the screen.

The end result is a giant, pixelated collage of images and words. Aesthetically, it’s reminiscent of Million Dollar Homepage, a website created by Alex Tew, a 21-year-old entrepreneur who hoped to pay for college by selling 1 million pixels of Internet advertising space for $1 each on a homepage in 2005. But unlike the homepage, r/Place constantly refreshes.

Fandoms unite to overtake images from other communities or compete for place on the board. Some users are determined to destroy. In 2017, a large, amorphous black smudge called the “Void” appeared and attempted to subsume the project. It resurfaced this year too, but only momentarily. Some people have tried to sabotage other groups’ creations with streams of purple pixels.

“R/Place activates a certain tribalism in people that makes them look for any symbol that gives them a source of identity and slap it on a big, meaningless map,” writer Annie Rauwerda wrote in Input. The web hosts an ever-growing ecosystem of memes, cultural references, and niche community symbols.

Although Place is a Reddit phenomenon (it was started by Josh Wardle, who later created the viral word game Wordle, when he worked at Reddit), the success of this year’s project has been greatly boosted by the rise in power of other community-driven platforms. like Discord and Twitch.

Users have built dedicated Discord servers to plan their takeovers of certain corners of the web, including the “Embassy” channels where different groups can collaborate and form alliances. There are many university logos and flags from different countries represented. Purdue University and a group seeking to maintain an Irish flag on the web have formed an alliance. “We put a little heart between the two, which represents alliances between neighboring factions,” said Chicago software engineer Ian Jones.

Major Twitch streamers have also contributed to Place’s growth, asking their thousands of fans to mark the web with the logos or symbols of their favorite streamers. Twitch creators like xQc, Mizkif, Sodapoppin, Pokimane, Hasan Piker, Myth, and Asmongold invited people to tune in to watch tiles placed and help create new images. Jack Manifold, a British YouTuber and Twitch streamer encouraged his fans to use their pixels to insert 3D glasses on images of people and animals on site, leading to momentary confusion.

If Place says anything about the internet, it’s a testament to the rise of online communities. Since its last iteration, online platforms have experienced great fragmentation.

“People have been in online communities a lot more since covid became a thing,” said Casey Holmes, a Twitch streamer in Austin. “Social media is in a different place than it was before the last time Place came out.”

Now more and more users, especially younger ones, are looking to connect with others in closed communities or online groups like Discord or a similar platform called Geneva, rather than on big sites. open social media.

But this trend toward more confined social groups and experiences online can also leave people eager to engage with the masses. The plaza has become Reddit’s de facto public plaza in recent days, said Brian Lynch, an attorney and moderator for Reddit in San Diego. “Even though the internet is going through this divide with communities, I think these groups are still looking for that central town hall or that central space,” he said.

It should be noted that Place has never been about collaboration between all users, but rather a space for communities to exert their influence. Eugene Wei, a San Francisco tech entrepreneur, sees Place as the perfect metaphor for the modern internet, where the power of individuals to shape discourse or exert influence online is only as strong as the collective they make. part.

“Everyone needs a cult in the age of the Internet, everyone needs a group,” Wei said. “Part of the reason you need these cults is the social media landscape. You need soldiers in your army to fight and defend against things. The internet allows groups of people to amplify their impact by coordinating with each other. In this way, Place is a pure version of it. In other words, if you don’t have a group to coordinate and amplify your message, your individual pixel or voice will be flipped and erased.

The hope of the internet was that it would connect humanity in a way that would allow everyone to coordinate and build things on a large scale, but in reality, while massive networks of bubbles and clusters sometimes form alliances to create, they also compete and fight. “Perhaps the disappointment of the internet is that there aren’t more examples people can point to of large-scale human coordination to create something,” Wei said.

Christopher Torres, pixel artist and creator of the Nyan Cat, has made several contributions to Place. “It’s kind of addictive trying to protect the piece you’re building,” he said. “It’s like a turf war, but it’s also a social statement. For example, we have to defend this little penguin here in the corner against this guy throwing purple dots at him.

Much of the images that emerged on Place reflect the values ​​of the participating communities. The Ukrainian flag featured prominently on the canvas throughout Saturday, as did the trans flag and various LGBT flags. People used Place to express themselves anti-NFT sentiment; others, like Wall Street Bets, pumped meme stocks. Fandoms of bands like BTS and other anime and video games quickly took up space on the web. Some users have created a “bike path” surrounding the route created on the canvas.

Alexa Jakob, a Cooper Union senior who is part of a subreddit dedicated to raising awareness about the environmental impact of cars, helped create a huge parking lot at the Place. “We chose to do this parking lot to show the reason for the existence of the subreddit,” she said. “We wanted to show that parking lots are a really big waste of space and cars are incredibly useless. Place is a way for different communities to show what they value.

The fact that Place hasn’t been completely overrun by trolls displaying hate symbols is a testament to dedicated communities that are focused on controlling radicalized factions. In 2017, several small swastikas were quickly canceled by other communities. (One was quickly turned into a Windows 95 logo.) “I’m actually surprised there aren’t a lot of far-right images,” Jakob said. Perhaps while these voices are strong online, they are ultimately dulled by other big fandoms and groups that have dominated the web.

Part of the project’s popularity is the sense of collectivism that seems increasingly rare as the internet becomes more fractured and polarized. To keep up with growing demand this year, Reddit has expanded the digital canvas and added more color choices to the palette every day. The project ends at 9 p.m. PT on Monday.

“It really brings people together,” said Ava Pape, a high school freshman in Northern Virginia. “There’s a lot of fuss internationally and domestically with politics, but you see a lot of people give it up for a second. You’re going to place a tile or make a joke about something or make an artwork , and you’re there with a lot of other people. You might not be going to these people’s accounts to see who they are, but you’re still working with them to create.