What would a work of internet graffiti made by users of one of the internet’s most popular social media sites look like? Probably something like what Reddit’s r/place experiments have created. First introduced in 2017 for April Fool’s Day, the subreddit r/place was created with a blank canvas that allowed each user to place a single pixel of color every five to 20 minutes. The canvas was available for just 72 hours, but in that time over one million users came together to claim their own space and create art ranging from country flags to memes to logos for games like “CounterStrike: Global Offensive” or “Rocket League.” The final product was a perfect representation of the website as well as the internet at large: an amalgamation of spaces where people gathered together to share their passion for anything from anime to Kanye West.
When Reddit announced that r/place would be returning this year with an expanded canvas and a longer timeframe, users prepared to work together to fill out an area of the new portrait. Among these users was Malia Kobe (who uses she/they pronouns), a University of Michigan-Dearborn student who goes by u/madembirb on Reddit. Kobe didn’t take part in the original r/place experiment, but they were excited to remake an important part of the last portrait: The University’s block “M.”
“I went back to watch some time lapses of 2017’s (version). I noticed that there was a Michigan ‘M’ (along with the rally cry ‘Go Blue’) on that one, but it had been destroyed and said ‘Go Blow,’” Kobe said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I was like, how about we take this as an opportunity to fix that?”
Kobe worked with others on the University of Michigan subreddit to coordinate the design of a new block “M,” this one including the score of last football season’s victory over Ohio State.
“We got to work the minute it opened. I had been pinned by a moderator in the r/UofM subreddit to get my posts as updated as possible and to get some eyes on it when our designs changed. Once we had the coordinates down, it was a matter of just staying there.”
Once the logo had been established, keeping it safe from invaders was no easy task. Besides the constant bombardment of random users spending their one pixel to cause chaos, Kobe — along with the rest of the users on r/place — faced a cold and uncaring enemy: the void. Coordinated in part by the subreddit r/theblackvoid, users covered parts of the canvas in black pixels, erasing swaths of artwork in the process.
“The first void attack wiped out our score, and it got replaced by a country flag,” Kobe said.
Michigan State, another long standing rival of the University, didn’t fare as well against the threat. A second void attack erased their design, which was positioned just above the block “M.” Even with destruction lurking so near to their plot, Kobe said that she and the crew weren’t in danger of losing it.
“They realized that there was no point in attacking us because our Michigan ‘M’ shows up so well against the black of the void.”
Both an agent for and against chaos, Kobe was part of several attacks on the heinous design from the Ohio State subreddit, r/OSU. In an act of espionage, Kobe said that she joined the r/theblackvoid Discord server and was able to convince them to start a void within Ohio State’s logo, hindering their work. According to Kobe, several other people working on the Michigan block “M” project alongside her also vandalized their logo with blue and yellow “Among Us” characters.
“I’m like, yeah, they’re getting a raise for that one, Chief,” said Kobe. “It was beautiful.”
Despite the rivalry, Kobe found the experiment to be a fun way to continue the competition between Ohio State and the University of Michigan.
“I think it was all in good fun. I mean, at the end of the day, Ohio State and Michigan are obviously out for blood with each other,” they stated. “But when they’re competing, it is just a game.” Kobe viewed r/place as a digital version of “The Game,” the massively important yearly football game between OSU and the University. “They had to admit that we defended our plot like Fort frickin Knox. I mean, Michigan is known for having a stone wall defense, and I’d say even digitally, we still have (that) stone wall defense.”
Subreddits from other schools such as Rutgers, Purdue and UCLA all had their own efforts to place their logos, some more successful than others. Kobe shared that she had communicated with members of the UC Berkeley and UCLA projects since they were in close proximity to the Block “M” Project.
This year’s r/place experiment was a massive success, with over six million users contributing to the living canvas. Watching the full time-lapse of the event is fascinating, and speaks to both the collaborative and destructive nature of the internet. Kobe shared their feelings on the project and its ability to aptly define internet culture and human nature at large.
“It gathers up the best and the worst (of the internet): the vulgarity and inappropriate images, the creativity and alliances. These are the backbone of humanity and society as a whole. If aliens landed on the planet and asked me to explain the human race to them, I would probably use r/place.”
Daily Arts Writer Hunter Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.