The Playstation Riot
The captivating Kai Cenat and troubles in Union Square
Americans love to riot over pop culture, especially in the summer, and especially at urban landmarks.
On Friday, that grand old pop-summer-riot tradition — remember the Disco Demolition Derby of 1979 and the Astor Place Riots of 1849? — hit Manhattan’s Union Square (est. 1882). Thousands of Kai Cenat fans erupted in violence over the prospect of getting free PlayStation 5s, game consoles that usually retail for $450.
Cops smashed the face of one young man through a car window. Sixty-five people, including 30 kids, were arrested, including Cenat, 21, who spent a night in jail for unlawful assembly and inciting a riot, before being released with a desk-appearance ticket. He is expected back in court on Aug. 18.
Gamers don’t get new consoles very often. The technology updates rarely. The PlayStation launched almost 30 years ago, and there have been only four more models since. Compare this with the iPhone, which has had 14 models in half the time.
The PS5 came out in 2020 and, while its graphics and controller are much better than the PS4, for most gamers this has not been enough to justify the expense. Most of the rioters at Union Square on Friday were evidently teenagers. They likely content themselves with the consoles of their childhoods: the PS3, from 2006, and the PS4, from 2013.
But the PS5 is admittedly a thing of beauty. For one, it uses a staggeringly powerful (and gigantic) chip that fits 10,600 million transistors onto a die that’s one foot square. The bulky console is thus able to produce hyperreal graphics at 120 frames per second.
With something called “ray tracing,” it can also render light so stunning, photorealistic, and keenly imagined you might think of Vermeer or Richard Estes. Images on it are, as in life itself, suffused with lively photons—reflection, refraction, soft shadows, scattering, depth of field, motion blur, caustics, ambient occlusion, dispersion phenomena, and chromatic aberrations.
So you can imagine the temptation such a machine might represent to a gamer with an eye for digital beauty and a taste for immersive visual drama. Fattening the pot was other free stuff Cenat was giving away: microphones, keyboards, webcams, gaming chairs, headphones, and gift cards.
Kai Carlo Cenat III, an Atlanta resident born in the Bronx, is the most-subscribed live filmmaker (“streamer”) on Twitch, the platform for videos made mostly by gamers. That means: nearly 7 million followers on Twitch alone. For his extraordinary charm, boyish humor, high energy, sui generis slang, and surpassing sweetness, Rolling Stone named him among its most influential creators of 2023.
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