What Barbenheimer could teach us about Starfield, Spider-Man 2, Super Mario Bros Wonder, and Baldur's Gate 3

The player-character in Starfield looks upon a snowy mountain, with a distant planet and its rings visible in the sky
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

There are few word pairings that make my eyes roll faster than 'console wars'. Whether that's tied to the interminable debate that plagues each new console cycle, game exclusives releasing on the same day on different hardware, or players hitching their wagon to one faceless multi-billion dollar company or another – wider video game culture has a long held tendency to pit cool things against one another because… well, I'm not entirely sure why. Mario vs Sonic. Sega vs Nintendo. PS5 vs Xbox Series X. Stop me if you've heard this one before. 

In the coming weeks and months, we're staring down another two of these potential scenarios. Baldur's Gate 3 has already stormed the scene on PC, but it's now gearing up for its PS5 launch – on September 6, the same day Bethesda's long-anticipated Starfield lands. A few weeks after that, on October 20, Marvel's Spider-Man 2 arrives on PS5; as does Super Mario Bros. Wonder on the Switch.  

And, as unlikely as it may sound, I reckon all of the above could, and likely should, take a page from the book of Barbenheimer.


Marvel's Spider-Man 2

(Image credit: Insomniac)

Baldur's Gate 3

(Image credit: Larian)

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The driving force behind man-made phenomena such as 'console wars' is, clearly, money. Building rivalries to drive sales and publicity is nothing new, and is commonplace in other forms of media and entertainment beyond video games. Chart-topping music vies  for pole position across the globe on a weekly basis, for example, as do the top TV shows and sporting events aired during the most sought-after scheduling slots. The movie equivalent is when two blockbusters land in the same week, sometimes on the same day, and jockey for that coveted number one spot on opening weekend at the box office. Most recently, the latter swept the pop culture world in the shape of Barbenheimer. 

And while the catchy portmanteau quickly became a pretty shameless marketing tool for fueling the hype machine and promoting two of the year's biggest films – Greta Gerwig's Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer – at ground level it marked a celebration. As shared on social media far and wide, cinemagoers dressed for the occasion in all-pink and all-black ensembles, they collectively strategized when was best to see each movie and in which order, and altogether bought into the day that cinema stood still. In short, Barbenheimer wasn't Barbie vs Oppenheimer, it was Barbie and Oppenheimer. 

So wouldn't it be lovely if we applied the same rule to video games? Instead of folk yelling about one game or one piece of hardware being better than the others, we could, I dunno, just enjoy the fact that we're all enjoying ourselves? Hardly a revolutionary suggestion, I realize, but it's something that's been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it's to do with getting older, or the fact that after a shit few years of game delays we're in the midst of a wonderful, if slightly intimidating run of releases – so much so that I feel far more inclined to celebrate where we are right now, than look for reasons to chastise others for having fun. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how from GTA 6 news to Baldur's Gate 3, Starfield and Spider-Man 2, 2023 might be one of the biggest years for games this century. After an impressive showing across the board at Summer Game Fest, I suggested that it doesn't matter who 'won' not-E3, 2024 is going to be an absolute blast for video games. And, in the wake of statements made during the enduring Microsoft-Activision acquisition debacle, my colleague Jasmine Gould-Wilson said: Now that the console wars have been decided, it’s time to ditch my self-enforced loyalty and get a PS5.


Super Mario Bros. Wonder

(Image credit: Nintendo)

"Against the Barbenheimer comparison, the logistics are obviously different when it comes to video game releases, but the principle needn't be."

Don't get me wrong, these sentiments are shared among many players today, but the vocal contingent of trolls and contrarians has always seemed louder in the most celebratory moments. Against the Barbenheimer comparison, the logistics are obviously different when it comes to video game releases, but the principle needn't be. Maybe you'll spend half the day swinging from the rooftops in NYC while spending your evening working through Mario's latest psychedelic sidescroller. Perhaps you'll split your time in early September between Baldur's Gate 3's PS5 fanfare, and among the stars in Starfield on Xbox Series X. 

I dunno, maybe I'm being idealistic. Maybe rivalries are now so intrinsic in video game culture – from their promotion, to voice chat and the competitive scene – that situations like Barbenheimer simply can't happen. For me, though, I just want to have fun. And I also want you to have fun. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes it is black and white. Or, even, black and pink.  

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Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.