R/Place: A Social Experiment Unlike Any Other


Peyton Markel, Staff Writer

April Fool’s is an amazing, entertaining time of year for all–filled with pranks, jokes, and on the app Reddit, collaborative art! A month later, the results of what Reddit was able to accomplish in just four days remains the matter of enthusiastic discussion today.

On April 1-4, the internet descended upon an online canvas of exactly 4 million pixels. Millions of people took part in the great social experiment known as r/place. Art was made, war was waged, alliances were forged and broken, and at its peak, it completely took over the streaming app Twitch. Whether one missed it or made it, this is how it all happened!

The story begins with a software engineer named Josh Wardle. Wardle is a former product manager at Reddit, and in 2015, he helped to create the social experiment game called “The Button,” which launched on April Fool’s Day. Reddit users were presented with a button which, if pressed, would reset a 60-second timer. It sounds pretty simple at its base, but it absolutely captivated Reddit users at the time. Then, on April Fool’s Day 2017, he followed it up with something even greater: a subreddit known as r/place, otherwise known as place

The idea was simple. There was a large white canvas in which users could change the color of a single pixel every 5 to 20 minutes. For the next 3 days, over a million Reddit users from hundreds of different communities piled onto the canvas to add their pixels. What started out as crude drawings quickly evolved into elaborate pixel art, created and maintained by organized teams of people. Very quickly, people realized that place wasn’t just about creating art…but also defending it. Because anyone could change any pixel, if a creator wanted his art to stay intact, he and his team had to be on high alert around the clock. After 72 hours, the original r/place ended, and many thought that was the end of r/place forever. Neither Josh Wardle nor Reddit gave any indication that r/place would return, and so it became internet folklore. 

However, this bit of folklore, on April 1, 2022, 5 years later, made a triumphant return–and the internet lost its collective mind. Everyone and his mother, it seemed, piled onto the canvas, including some of the biggest Twitch streamers on the planet. Almost immediately, there were some recognizable features from the original r/place. Germans immediately began creating their canvas-spanning flag, and just like last time, a group known simply as “The Blue Corner” did what their name suggested, and went about making a small portion of the bottom right corner a single shade of blue. The ominous “Void” began to appear in pockets, too, threatening to swallow communities whole. 

Beautiful artwork began to pop up around the canvas; there were stunning recreations of famous paintings by the Dutch, and there was also the ongoing hilarity of the Canadians failing to make the leaf on their flag right for pretty much the duration of the event. There was even a group of “Among Us” fans who were hellbent on hiding their characters throughout the canvas, leading to a final count of over 3000. Many individuals favorite was a working QR code which led people to get Rick Rolled.

There was a lot of impressive stuff out there, but the question was how long was it going to last? There was always going to be random people looking to grief someone’s art, but by far the biggest threat on the canvas were streamers and their communities. It’s difficult, even impossible, to take over an area by oneself, because of the five-minute cooldown between placing pixels. This meant that the power of the community, not the individual, was going to be a more prominent force. One of the more prominent streamers who became infamous was the streamer XQC. He would lead his followers to create voids of black pixels that would stream across the canvas, swallowing anything in their path. At one point, XQC even reached an astounding 233,000 concurrent viewers following his directions. 

One group in particular that often was the target for griefing was national flags. These flags became staging grounds for huge battles, like when XQC and his viewers tried to take on Turkey’s flag, because the Turkish streamer Hassan refused to ally with him. Amazingly, the Turkish community managed to defend their flag and push XQC back. While streamers raids were often devastating, they lacked the stamina to make lasting change. As said by one of the leaders of the r/AmericanFlagInPlace community, “They are sprinters, not endurance runners.” But, still, the greatest battle was yet to come.

Over the course of the weekend, the canvas had its size periodically increased. At the beginning of the third expansion, the French community quickly took up a large corner for their national flag. On top of being accused of hogging too much space, the French were also accused by Spanish streamers of using bots. This argument quickly devolved into a practical war on the canvas between the two nations. One streamer even called his mother on stream, calling to say, “Mom, I’m starting World War 3 with the French in Spain, but I just wanted to let you know I love you.” The battle lines were drawn. On one side, the French. On the other, the Spanish. The battle took place on the border between the French flag and the Hezbollah mural. The goal was simple for the Spanish. Give Hezbollah some legs and shoes, thereby claiming a large portion of the French flag. However, despite the best efforts of the attackers, the French defended their flag. More accusations arose of them using bots, especially because some of the accounts they were using seemed to be very new. 

 However, this was just one battle in a much larger war, all over the canvas there were countless battles, storylines, creations, and alliances going on between communities big and small. One of these was that of the American Flag. Originally located beneath the Turkish flag in the upper left quadrant, the flag was under attack constantly from multiple communities, the foremost being XQC and the Trans flag. These assailants would completely destroy the flag at times, only for Americans to rebuild it, just for it to be torn down once more. This happened almost hourly, until the final expansion of the canvas, in which the American flag was quickly relocated to the pixel coordinates 1776, 1776. A dedicated subreddit towards the American flag was flooded with individuals rallying behind it, and alliances were formed with other communities such as The Blue Corner, directly below them. Thousands of people all joined together in calls to discuss plans, alliances, contingencies and more, and created many American landmarks by the end of it.

The creators of r/place had told everyone that the whole thing would end on April 4, but they didn’t specify an exact time, nor how it would happen. The change occurred suddenly, without warning, as users found only a single color able to be placed: white. It quickly dawned on everyone. The creators had made it so they wouldn’t end it, but instead the artists themselves would. This did reveal many communities which were using bots (including France, settling the debate), and within the space of an hour, millions of pixels and days of work had been wiped out. It was quite poetic, seeing it return back to the blank white canvas it once had been. As said by Ms. Eileen Corson, a Language Arts teacher, “I really appreciate how innocently inclusive this event was. Though people battled for space, they also collectively created a place of peace and art.” Resources can be found online, including time-lapses, such as what can be found here; https://youtu.be/K5O3UgLG2Jw, or interactive maps such as https://place-atlas.stefanocoding.me.

That is the big picture, in all its pixelated glory. So, what did this social experiment teach mankind? Quite simply, it taught each the power of the community over the individual, both being able to create and destroy on a scale hitherto unimaginable by a single person. It was strange, it was shocking, it was fun, and for many people, it was great to feel a part of something–to feel if only for a weekend that they have a place. r/place.