Twitch Influencers Ruined r/Place For Everyone

The revival of Reddit's collaborative art experiment says a lot about society’s ability to create, compromise, and destroy itself.
A screenshot of the collaborative art project r/Place before it was erased.

On Monday, Reddit concluded the second iteration of its collaborative art experiment r/Place, the digital canvas subreddit that has captivated internet users worldwide. Like its predecessor in 2017, the multi-day collaboration allowed community subreddits to create a shared piece of digital artwork that reflected various cultures and fandoms. But this time, Twitch streamers turned the project into a heavily-factioned, fast-paced game of Capture the Flag, using their influence to direct hordes of followers for control of the canvas.


The pseudo-experiment, which started on April Fools’ Day, let individual users add a pixel to the canvas every five minutes (every 20 minutes for unverified accounts) to create a shared piece of digital art. The canvas was a chaotic hodgepodge of every Reddit community you could think of, with contributions from subreddits like r/Radiohead and recreations of Magic the Gathering trading cards and Star Wars battle scenes. Where’s Waldo even made some highly-appropriate cameos within the artwork’s densely pixelated jumble.

The type of visual that stood out the most, however, was flags. Various national flags were displayed prominently on the canvas, some going all the way across or disappearing and reappearing with each iteration. LGBTQ+ pride flags were especially common, as was the Ukrainian flag, with one containing an image of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as users expressed support for the country against the ongoing Russian invasion

When Michael Green, a vexillologist and founder of Flags for Good, signed in to Reddit on Monday, I asked him to look at the r/Place canvas and explain the flag phenomenon. He noted that many of the flags were embedded with images of iconic landmarks and symbols for each country—the Turkish flag was flanked by the Hagia Sophia, the Mexican flag accompanied a Mayan calendar, and the United States had the Space Shuttle and the Golden Gate Bridge, to name a few examples.


“Flags are the most simple forms of design, they’re literally just a few colors so that makes it easy to create in all kinds of ways,” Green told Motherboard. “But in turn, they are the most powerful form of design because people [will] kill each other over a flag, they’ll cry as it’s being raised. Flags evoke the deepest emotions in us.”

By Monday morning, entire subreddits had banded together, with content creators live-streaming their directives to viewers over Twitch in order to hold down territories until the final screenshot was captured. One popular gaming streamer, xQc, claimed to have received death threats after directing his viewers to pixelate over other r/Place creations.

Reddit user Jett D. had been active on r/Place since the subreddit re-emerged on Friday. He acted as a freelancer on the subreddit, “a solo pawn in the world of giants just watching the world be taken over then re-conquered again,” as he described it to Motherboard. He would go to areas where he thought help was needed and tried to assist smaller communities in getting their share of screen space. 

“It would be a shame if it were all just for a few big streamers to own it as a free advertisement to their channel,” Jett D. told Motherboard hours before r/Place was erased. (When the experiment was over, Reddit changed the subreddit to only allow users to place white squares, resulting in the canvas being wiped clean like a mandala sand painting.)


Kurt Luther, an associate professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, said that in addition to the affordances of real-time coordination, Twitch supports influential streamers serving as leaders of creative efforts. 

“Ironically, the Reddit software platform may not be ideally suited for this style of collaboration because subreddits are turning to more synchronous communication platforms like Discord and Twitch to enable real-time coordination that may help a distributed group work together more quickly and effectively,” Luther told Motherboard. 

But between creation and destruction, direct and indirect coordination was taking place. When there were no longer any empty spaces, every changed pixel would overwrite someone else’s work and how it would relate to what’s already on the canvas. Some users would fight to preserve a design, while others would fight to change it.

“I have seen some users going to the subreddit that appears to be responsible for an adjacent design and ask if they can work together instead of competing,” Luther said. “I have seen other groups completely replace designs without much discussion about what lies beneath. Other editing is more opportunistic, even improvisational. These users make designs that deface or enhance the previous work in clever ways by building on what's already there.”


Jett D. said that in order to succeed in r/Place, users needed to join up with others.

“Having strength in numbers is the only way to really ‘win’ a spot in Place,” he said. “And it seems [in r/Place if] communities step on the wrong toes they could easily be overwhelmed. It’s caused streamers and communities to ally together to ensure their own survival—much like human conflicts of history, which is why I’m so intrigued by the entire thing.” 

While the creation and representation impressed Green, he says he finds the destruction of art just as interesting.

“You, as a person who can take part, have a choice,” he said. “You can be a hero or a villain. You can add to something and help something stay beautiful or become beautiful, or you can be part of the entropy of everything, which is just watching it fall apart.”

In the end, r/Place showed us how users from similar fandoms and nationalities can unite to create something beautiful. But it was also a reminder of how powerful demagogues can rally their followers to target and erase underrepresented communities—not just in virtual warfare, but in the physical world too.