It’s been a long couple of sleepless nights since r/Place was unveiled on Reddit. At first, I wasn’t entirely convinced the subreddit wasn’t an April Fool’s joke — the concept unveiled by the admins of Reddit was cryptic and bizarre, to say the least.
There is an empty canvas.
You may place a tile upon it, but you must wait to place another.
Individually you can create something.
Together you can create something more.
I got the notification while at work and immediately dismissed it. The concept seemed ridiculous and, frankly, the last thing that the internet super-community Reddit should be concerned with. An initial scan over the game/social experiment/art piece looked simplistic at best.
The linked subreddit showed off a 1,000×1,000 pixel grid — initially all white — with a growing amount of colorful dots scattered around the board. With literally a million pixels to fill in, the organization of it was barebones.
Assuming you have an account with Reddit that is over a day old, players are able to go to r/Place and lay down a tile in one of the 16 colors available. After doing that, a 5 to 10 minute timer is initiated — you aren’t able to touch the board until that timer runs out.
My first block I put down was on my iPhone, waiting in traffic somewhere around Nashville: a small blue dot in an endless ocean of white. Not a second later, another blue dot joins right next to mine on the left. “Huh,” I thought, “that was pretty cool.”
Ten minutes later, I was pulling into my driveway when I got a notification on my phone: “Your next tile is now available.” I turned our 1×2 blue rectangle into a stumpy blue “L.”
I went back home and started alternating between Fast RMX on Nintendo Switch and Loot Rascals on PlayStation 4, occasionally taking some time to add to the million-pixel tapestry.
As one would imagine, the free white campus soon turned into a mix of penises and an all-out color faction war. Red started occupying the top right corner, green the lower left corner, and blue dominating vast portion of the maps with a sweeping Great Britain-like colonization campaign. Subreddits were forming to help accomplish these goals.
I checked out again for what seemed like a few moments, and when I returned, blue had nearly dominated the map thanks to a heavy propaganda and recruitment campaign. Small bits of organization were beginning to flourish — rainbows were starting to emerge, flags of nationality were raining down from the various communities, and pixel art of the Rocket League logo was beginning to be developed.
I went to bed and, while I was asleep, the world worked developing the map without halting. Over the next 13 hours overnight, this had developed:
A mythos had been created overnight. There were protagonists, antagonists, and pure evil taking over the r/Place grid. Wars had been started and ended overnight, alliances had been drawn, and the war was still raging on tirelessly.
I scrambled to catch up with the events. Overnight, blue had systematically begun to take every corner — they were equally loved and hated as the imperials on the board. Flags had become more than a symbol of national pride — Germany had annexed France and Denmark’s flag was being tainted into Sweden’s. Lord Helix (who anyone will remember from the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon) returned with a vengeance, protected diligently by Rainbow Road, the rainbow group now dedicated to order an tranquility.
Works of art — ranging from pixel art to literal masterpieces — had developed. Monokuma from Danganronpa, generation one starter Pokemon and Mario (on Rainbow Road, no less) sprouted from the woodwork thanks to the various subreddit communities promoting the projects. More in-depth pieces like He-Man and the Mona Lisa sprouted from the ashes of failed projects, and were unbelievably successful.
Most troubling of all was the growing Void — a cancer-like series of black pixels in the middle of the board, actively growing and tainting art. The active community (largely promoted by 4chan) wasn’t looking to take over the board in the name of glory, but instead cleanse the board to create unity in pure black.
Caught up with the overnight drama across the board, I picked a faction — Rainbow Road — and started fighting the Void wherever it tried to consume. Casual subreddits turned into active ones, strategy-related Discord servers were filling up by the hundreds, and there were over 100,000 people placing tiles at once.
Faction in-fighting began to cease — the communities dedicated to making hearts let the Rainbow clan pass through, turning all the hearts that touched it rainbow-themed. Germany and France came to an alliance; the old annexed France became the European Union flag with a rainbow outline. All active hands shifted to fighting the creeping Void infection.
I turned off r/Place late into the night while completing a Rainbow frame around the Mona Lisa — a flagrant attempt to stop it from becoming a second Void, despite the faux-alliance the moderators of both groups had. I woke up to that same frame being done: the Void had been entirely contained and had spread to another part of the map, and art was continuing to flourish.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine that r/Place’s grid had ever been white. The space is almost entirely filled with elaborate designs, memorials to influential personalities (like Bob Ross and Steve Irwin), popular logos, and pixel art galore. Yet the map is consistently in a state of flux — I’ve disappeared for over an hour to write this feature, and when I return, the balance of power will have ultimately shifted.
Reddit’s r/Place isn’t necessarily a “game” as much as it is an experience: a social experiment reflecting human nature in group environments. Some people create, others destroy. A few people will develop plans and art, while others focus on maintaining the existing structures. A group took the mantle of being PR creators, while natural-born leaders emerged forging peace treaties.
The fact I can have this conversation about a Reddit page that feels analogous to an Excel document is baffling. But this is the first weekend in a long time where I haven’t turned on Rocket League, and Mass Effect Andromeda has sat firmly in its case on my shelf.
It isn’t immediately clear whether r/Place is a permanent fixture of Reddit, or a short-lived experiment designed around April Fool’s Day. But nothing has made me cooperate with random internet strangers this intensely in recent memory.