What would an artwork of internet graffiti by users of one of the internet’s most popular social media sites look like? Probably something like what Reddit’s r/place experiments created. First introduced in 2017 for April Fool’s Day, the r/place subreddit was created with a blank canvas that allowed each user to place a single color pixel every five to 20 minutes. The canvas was only available for 72 hours, but during that time more than a million users came together to claim their own space and create works of art ranging from country flags to memes to memes. game logos like “CounterStrike: Global Offensive” or “Rocket League”. The end product was a perfect representation of the website as well as the internet as a whole: a fusion of spaces where people came together to share their passion for everything from anime to Kanye West.
When Reddit announced that r/place would return this year with an expanded canvas and longer time frame, users geared up to work together to fill in an area of the new portrait. Among those users was Malia Kobe (who uses the pronouns she/they), a University of Michigan-Dearborn student who goes by u/madembirb on Reddit. Kobe didn’t participate in the original r/place experience, but they were excited to redo an important part of the latest portrait: the University’s “M” block.
“I went back to see some time lapse from 2017 (version). I noticed there was a Michigan ‘M’ (with the rallying cry ‘Go Blue’) on that one, but it was destroyed and said ‘Go Blow,'” Kobe said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I was like, how about taking this as an opportunity to fix this?”
Kobe worked with others on the University of Michigan subreddit to coordinate the design of a new “M” block, this one featuring the score from the football season win over Ohio State.
“We got to work as soon as we opened. I had been pinned by a moderator in the r/UofM subreddit to keep my posts as up-to-date as possible and to keep an eye on them when our designs changed. Once we had the coordinates, all we had to do was stay there.
Once the logo was established, protecting it from invaders was no easy task. Besides the constant bombardment of random users spending their single pixel to wreak havoc, Kobe – along with the rest of the users in r/place – faced a cold and indifferent enemy: the void. Coordinated in part by the r/theblackvoid subreddit, users covered parts of the canvas in black pixels, erasing entire swaths of artwork.
“The first attack from the void wiped out our score and it was replaced with a national flag,” Kobe said.
Michigan State, another longtime rival of the University, did not weather the threat as well. A second void attack obliterated their drawing, which was positioned just above the “M” block. Even with destruction lurking so close to their plot, Kobe said she and the crew were in no danger of losing it.
“They realized there was no point attacking us because our Michigan ‘M’ stood out so well against the black of the void.”
Both an agent for and against chaos, Kobe has been part of several attacks on Ohio State’s nefarious design subreddit, r/OSU. In an act of espionage, Kobe said she joined the Discord server r/theblackvoid and managed to convince them to create a void in the Ohio State logo, hampering their work. According to Kobe, several other people working alongside him on Michigan’s Block “M” project also vandalized their logo with blue and yellow “Among Us” lettering.
“I’m like, yeah, they’re getting a raise for that one, chief,” Kobe said. “It was beautiful.”
Despite the rivalry, Kobe found the experience a fun way to continue the competition between Ohio State and the University of Michigan.
“I think it was all fun. I mean, at the end of the day, Ohio State and Michigan are obviously out for blood on each other,” they said. “But when they’re competing, it’s just a game.” Kobe viewed r/place as a digital version of “The Game,” the all-important annual football game between OSU and the University. “They had to admit we defended our plot like Fort frickin’ Knox. I mean, Michigan is notorious for having a rockwall defense, and I would say even numerically we still have (that) rockwall defense.
Other school subreddits such as Rutgers, Purdue, and UCLA have all made their own efforts to place their logos, some more successfully than others. Kobe shared that she contacted the members of the UC Berkeley and UCLA projects because they were near the Block “M” project.
This year’s r/place experience was a huge success, with over six million users contributing to the living web. Watching the entire event in fast motion is fascinating and a testament to both the collaborative and destructive nature of the internet. Kobe shared his feelings about the project and his ability to properly define internet culture and human nature in general.
“It brings together the best and the worst (of the internet): vulgarity and inappropriate images, 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.