R/place: Belgians hold their own in collaborative pixel war

R/place: Belgians hold their own in collaborative pixel war
Credit: Reddit u/hotchilly11

R/place is a collaborative art project hosted by the online forum Reddit. To help create the artwork, users, or more common large communities (commonly gathered in “subreddits”), can place one pixel every five to 20 minutes in a giant collaborative online canvas.

The result is a massively sprawling online group art project, where users and communities battle each other to represent their communities' logos, art, memes, and insignia.

The digital project was originally launched on April Fool’s Day 2017 by Welsh software engineer Josh Wardle. The project was revived after five years, running for four days before being shut down once again. On 3 April alone, around 6 million users placed more than 72 million tiles or around 2.5 million tiles per hour.

To gain control of the large digital canvas, members of online communities band together to mark a corner of the canvas, defending against rogue users drawing over their communities’ artwork, coordinating join “raids” on other subreddits' artwork, and even vandalising the larger canvas with monocoloured “voids.”

Online streamers also coordinated their viewers (in some cases hundreds of thousands) to hold territory on the giant canvas. Almost every imaginable internet community, hobby, nation, niche, and ideology was represented on the canvas before the project’s closure on 4 April.

Some of this year's highlights included failed Russian attempts to silence an outpouring of support for Ukraine, rainbow pride flags, video-game "Among us" Easter eggs, and Canada's inability to draw its own flag.

Putting Belgium on the map

In the real world, Belgium is a small country. On the online canvas, however, Belgium’s presence stretches for thousands of tiles.

A dedicated online community of Belgians worked tirelessly over the four days of the project to decorate a large vertical stretch of the canvas with a long Belgian tricolour, national symbols, and other Belgian landmarks. Much of these thankless volunteers came from the “R/belgium” community on Reddit and the Belgian R/place community discord server.

Credit: Reddit u/hotchilly11

Reddit user 2wicky, in a post on Reddit, explained how such a small community was able to stand its ground against communities that were up to ten times larger.

“Part of our success is due to having a tricolour flag. Once established, the hivemind can take over and without any coordination, it is easy to grow and defend,” the user explained.

Other tricolour flag communities similarly did well, such as Germany, France, and The Netherlands. The colours of the Belgian flag are also the same as Germany's, which apparently worked in Belgium’s favour.

“Another factor that probably helped us is having the same colours as Germany,” 2wicky explained.

Credit: Reddit u/hotchilly11

“Many players not knowing the difference probably just assumed it was Germany expanding. Because of their reputation of being well-organised, they assumed that our flag too would be difficult to challenge and attack.”

As the Reddit user revealed, maintaining Belgium’s presence, and defending day and night against vandalism was a great struggle. His community kept their artwork alive due to a large array of “alliances” and agreements with other groups. Belgian ex-pats, who operated in other time zones, kept the artwork alive while other members slept.

Ideas for new artworks, such as images of Manneken Pis, TinTin’s rocket, or Lucky Luke would be agreed upon democratically among the community, and then drawn collaboratively.

The Reddit user joked that it was so typically Belgium that, despite the disharmonious existence of various factions, the community’s leaders acted more as “civil servants making sure the democratic process worked smoothly.”

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