r/Place and the battle of pixels

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Since Friday, millions of Reddit users have come together to collectively generate a massive, collaborative piece of art that has become a viral phenomenon.

from reddit r/place is a subreddit that works like an open canvas, where each user can post a single tiny colored pixel every five minutes. The project began as an April Fools’ Day experiment in 2017, and in its first year, over a million Reddit users placed around 16 million tiles on the blank communal digital canvas. Five years later he’s back, and those numbers have skyrocketed. As of Sunday night, more than 6 million users placed nearly 72 million tiles, at a rate of more than 2.5 million tiles placed per hour.

Because each user can only place a single small tile every five minutes, it is impossible to build alone. The five-minute wait time throttles anyone’s ability to master the canvas. Instead, users are forced to work together and build coordinated communities to produce collective works of pixel art.

Massive subreddits like r/trees Y r/ukraine they began orchestrating their campaigns early, collectively filling the space with a large marijuana leaf and a Ukrainian flag respectively. Users of r/star wars He recreated an entire movie poster. The trans community put up a massive trans flag on the screen.

The end result is a giant pixelated collage of images and words. Aesthetically reminiscent of Million dollar landing pagea website created by Alex Tew, a 21-year-old entrepreneur who hoped to put himself through college by selling 1 million pixels of internet ad space for $1 each on a home page in 2005. But unlike the home page , r/Place is constantly regenerating.

Fandoms come together to outperform other communities’ images or compete for space on the board. Some users are bent on destruction. In 2017, a large amorphous black spot called “void” emerged and attempted to subsume the project. It resurfaced this year as well, but only momentarily. Some people tried to sabotage other groups’ creations with purple pixel blasts.

“R/Place activates a certain tribalism in people that makes them fight for any symbol that gives them a source of identity and pastes it onto a big meaningless map,” writer Annie Rauwerda wrote in Input. The canvas is home to 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 was working on Reddit), the success of this year’s project has been largely fueled by the rise of other oriented platforms. to the community. like Discord and Twitch.

Users have created dedicated Discord servers to plan their acquisitions of certain corners of the canvas, including “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 keep an Irish flag on the canvas formed an alliance. “We put a little heart between the two, which represents alliances between neighboring factions,” said Ian Jones, a software engineer in Chicago.

Top Twitch streamers also helped grow Place, directing their thousands of followers to mark the canvas with their favorite streamers’ logos or symbols. Twitch creators like xQc, Mizkif, Sodapoppin, Pokimane, Hasan Piker, Myth, and Asmongold had people tune in to see how the tiles were laid and to help create new images. Jack Manifold, a British YouTuber and Twitch streamer, encouraged his fans to use his pixels to insert 3D glasses in images of people and animals in the place, leading to momentary confusion.

If Place says anything about the Internet, it’s a testament to the growing power of online communities. Since its last iteration, online platforms have experienced a lot of fragmentation.

“People are much more interested in online communities 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 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 large open social networking sites.

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

It is notable that Place has never been about all users working together, but rather a space for communities to exert their influence. Eugene Wei, a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco, 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 are a part of.

“Everyone needs a cult in the Internet age, 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 through coordination. In this way, Place is a pure version of that.” 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 at scale, but in reality, while massive networks of bubbles and groups sometimes form alliances to create, they also compete and fight. “Perhaps the disappointment of the Internet is that there aren’t more examples that people can point to of large-scale human coordination to create something,” Wei said.

Christopher Torres, a pixel artist and the creator of the nyan cat, has made several contributions to Place. “It’s kind of addictive trying to protect the piece you’re building,” she 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 from this guy throwing purple spots at him.”

Much of the imagery that emerged in Place reflects the values ​​of the participating communities. The Ukrainian flag was featured prominently on the canvas throughout Saturday, as was the trans flag and various LGBT flags. People used Place to express anti-NFT sentiment; others, like Wall Street Bets, pumped meme shares. Fandoms of groups like BTS and other anime and video games quickly took up space on the canvas. Some users created a “bike lane” around the road 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 Place. “We chose to make this parking lot to show why the subreddit exists,” she said. “We wanted to show that parking lots are a huge waste of space and that cars are incredibly wasteful. The place is a way for different communities to show what they value.”

The fact that Place hasn’t been completely overrun by trolls posting hate symbols is a testament to the dedicated communities focused on keeping radicalized factions at bay. In 2017, several small swastikas were quickly nullified by other communities. (one was quickly transformed into a Windows 95 logo.) “I’m really surprised there isn’t a lot of far-right imagery,” Jakob said. Perhaps, though those voices are strong online, they are ultimately drowned out by other big fandoms and groups that have dominated the canvas.

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

“It really brings people together,” said Ava Pape, a high school freshman in Northern Virginia. “There is a lot of turmoil internationally and nationally with politics, but you see a lot of people giving up for a second. You’re going to put up a mosaic or make a joke out of something or make a piece of art, and you’re there with a lot of other people. You may not go through those people’s accounts to see who they are, but you still work with them to create.”

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