Screenshot: Reddit / Kotaku
Who produced this amazing pixel art of Elden Ring’s Ranni sitting next to the protagonist of Hollow Knight, and why? The answer is r/Place, a Reddit battlefield where anyone can place a dot and change the course of meme history. In an era where so much of the modern internet is trash, r/Place has returned and it’s still really cool.
Part April Fools joke, part sociological experiment, the internet pixel mural Place is back after a five-year hiatus and bigger than ever. It originally debuted in 2017 with one simple conceit: let random internet users collaborate on a piece of art but only let them place one pixel every five minutes. The results ranged from the expected to the bizarre. Some people helped make Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Others created a big black void, with similar anomalies taking on a narrative of their own as users reacted to what unfolded in real time. The idea was Josh Wardle’s, an employee of Reddit at the time who you might now know as the creator of Wordle.
Now r/Place is back, double the size, and reflecting the last half-decade of online culture and technological development in the process. Fans have spent the last four days battling over the blank canvas to express solidarity for Ukraine and trans rights, tout meme stocks, and troll one another’s fandoms. It’s led to weird feuds and unlikely alliances as various pockets of the internet and major online personalities engage in real-time takeovers.
A rundown of some of the weirder team-ups reported over on Fanbyte shows Spyro fans trying to join forces with Community fans, and Nier fans reaching out to Kingdom Hearts fans. Unable to compete in a big way, most groups settle for the minimal real estate they need to properly convey an emblem of their fandom in pixels. To get extra efficient, some groups have fused images together, or taken to protecting existing pieces of artwork within the borders of larger takeovers.
A Final Fantasy XIV logo has survived at coordinates 1274 x 534 for over a day now. Hollow Knight fans, meanwhile, are trying to safeguard an ode to Silksong, the game’s long-awaited sequel. “Our biggest priority is to fix Hornet’s needle in Silksong,” wrote one of the fans marshaling forces on Discord. “Need help with thread,” responded another. Meanwhile, the Elden Ring community came together to make an Erdtree that’s part Hollow Knight Radiance.
Twitch’s Just Chatting category is currently dominated by streamers pushing their followers to ambush various pieces or safeguard their own. Some people are claiming to be staying up all night to protect their creations, while others allege fraud by influxes of bots. As one weird example, Streamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel had a run-in with a bunch of French users who he accused of being fake accounts. At the same time, streamer Jack Manifold was trying to get users to use red and blue to give every character on the mural 3D glasses. To others it made it look like the French colors were proliferating.
Because the mural is constantly changing and its master strokes are being coordinated on Twitch streams, other subreddits, or dedicated Discords, it’s incredibly hard to actually follow the micro-history of who’s doing what and why. But at any given time it looks like an elaborate tapestry reflecting microcosms of internet popularity from Among Us to Blaseball.
“It’s kind of addicting to try to protect the piece you’re building,” pixel artist Nyan Cat told The Washington Post. “It’s like a turf war, but it’s a social statement, too. Like, we need to defend this little penguin here in the corner to this guy throwing purple spots at it.”
r/Place will shut off sometime on April 4, at which point every community’s triumphs and defeats will be locked in for good. Understandably, that’s ramped up the pressure as things draw to a close. Wrote one person on the Hollow Knight Discord, “I’M SORRY TO ALL THE NEW PEOPLE AND VISITORS I SWEAR WE USED TO BE NICER this is just getting stressful now that we’re close to the end.”