Soapbox articles give our team a chance to share some personal perspectives. Kate has been watching an art project on Reddit for the past few days, and she has some warm fuzzy feelings to share…
Disclaimer: The very nature of r/place means that there may be some unpleasant images, pixelated nudity, and various other NSFW things listed in the screenshots below. I did my best to crop and censor but I advise caution though!
On April Fools’ Day in 2017, the minds behind the online forum community Reddit decided to invent something they called “r/place” – a giant blank canvas that would allow users to place a single pixel every five minutes. The experiment quickly grew from people assigning random colors to various subgroups that group together to create logos, flags, and other arts. By the time the r/place panel closed, 1 million people had participated, and you’d gone into an internet legend.
The legend is back in 2022 to celebrate r/place’s fifth anniversary, and unbeknownst to users, the canvas is designed to slowly quadruple in size over four days, allowing millions of pixels to be placed, and new artwork to be made.
So, listen up – this is Reddit. Although the title is warm and mysterious, I won’t pretend r/place isn’t also Total technical block. Among the robots ruining the canvas with giant hideous art and raising flags road Too much space, huge broadcast screens urging her fans to misrepresent other people’s work, it was an absolute mess.
Some are pretty fun: One running joke is that Canadians can’t figure out how to draw a maple leaf, their iconic flag has been turned into everything from a red dot to a banana, and a fellow “Between Us” crew has been hidden in every piece of art, if you look closely—and there File Much from nudity. It’s basically a Reddit bathroom kiosk.
But among all the mayhem and memes, there is a touching story about communities coming together to represent their countries, their hobbies, and their favorite things. Not surprisingly for a website that is definitively online, a lot of these common interests are video games, and among the flags, masterpieces, and references to things I don’t understand, you can find them all.
There are Kirbies, Minecraft, Pokémon, and even the tiny pixelated Froggy Chair, all created and maintained by fierce little groups of people who have to monitor and protect their art from the “sad” – people who just want to destroy things. But it’s great to see smaller communities claiming their space, too: Rain World has featured prominently, as have Downwell, Baba is You, and Enter the Gungeon, and even older games like Earthbound, 999: Nine People, Nine Hours, and Nine Doors.
The feeling I had in the early days of Twitch Plays Pokémon faded in the wake of r/place: a nostalgic mix of “aw, that’s nice” and “why though,” plus a dash of “who” be These guys have all their free time.” I didn’t have much to contribute to myself, so I was pretty much content with just helping maintain the integrity of the existing pieces against the single black pixel scourge, but that’s enough to make me feel like I’m part of the whole thing.
Much like the internet, there are trolls and trolls who just want to watch the world burn everywhere, but focusing on them – like focusing on the big picture of r/place – means overlooking the grassroots efforts going on in smaller communities. The fact that the Hollow Knight community, Ori community, and Blind Forest have come together to make beautiful art is just as heartening as seeing the flags of neighboring countries announce truces with little hearts amongst themselves.
It’s not that r/place is not owned by Earth. Pixel wars rage in contested spaces, like the four corners of the canvas and the huge German flag stretching almost all the way, but between all the quarrels there is a quiet kind of peace.
Honestly, after spending most of my three decades surfing the information highways, I hope you understand why I’m so cynical. The loudest and most common are negative voices at best and intolerant voices at worst, and Reddit is one of the most popular for its communities alike. But a massive community project like this helps me remember that most people, statistically, aren’t holes, and some are even better: designs.
I don’t think there are many things in this world that are better for society than the forces of cooperation and creativity. Reddit is bad at many things, but bringing people together is one of its strengths – and I’m glad to see people use this collaborative creation tool for good. If only we could somehow harness this unity, perhaps we could end wars for good.
Console wars, at least.