Which is better? PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X? Most people don’t care, but for a certain type of online poster it is everything. Gaming consoles aren’t cheap. Buying into one platform or another is an investment. And as the companies behind those platforms work to turn those consumer choices into branded lifestyles they can monetize for years to come, things can start to get weird quick. But I don’t know that it’s ever been weirder than the online showdown between Starfield and Spider-Man 2.
Exhibit A: earlier this week, the Xbox fan account Xbox Battle Grounds posted a side-by-side comparison of Mary Jane’s butt in Spider-Man 2 with Andreja’s butt in Starfield. “You be the Judge,” it read. Other users jokingly added other butts to the thread. A meme of Felicia Hardy from the Black Cat DLC for 2018’s Spider-Man. Panam from Cyberpunk 2077. Zelda from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. “Nintendo wins again,” one user responded.
Somehow that wasn’t even the weirdest part. Another player accused Xbox Battle Grounds of using a mod to make Andreja’s ass bigger in the comparison. “Not that any game should be rated on the voluptuousness of their characters’ butts, nor that it matters in any way to my enjoyment of the game, but I’ve played 200+ hours of Starfield and you clearly modded Andreja in that comparison,” wrote user robfrawley a day later, pointing to the VBB page on Nexusmods, a Voluptuous Body for Beauties mod that, among other things, buffs butts.
The console war butt-gate episode (which ignored Peter Parker’s own glute overhaul) might seem like just another random social media apparition, but it’s emblematic of a new stage in the longstanding debate between Playstation and Xbox fans as the two platforms finally go head-to-head with their biggest “next-gen” exclusives. Instead of being a normal person and playing and enjoying both Spider-Man 2 and Starfield, the feud has gotten even more intense, leading to some of the wildest takes I’ve ever seen.
With Starfield, some players raced to highlight every bug that went viral on social media or fixate on any screenshot that showed the game in an unflattering light. Often this meant gawking at particularly goofy looking NPC faces, which, to be fair, Starfield has plenty of. Welcome to a Bethesda game. There’s a debate to be had about how Starfield tells its story and where its characters are or aren’t effective at building relationships with the player. But some Sony fans found an easy weak spot to weaponize against the long-awaited blockbuster, reducing its overwhelming scope and complexity to its worst moments of facial rigging.
Now, Xbox fans are trying to turn the tables, flooding the zone with NPC comparisons in Spider-Man 2. Can you believe how flat some of the faces of the random New Yorkers putzing around the sidewalk look as Spidey web-slings above them? Others have honed in on specific glitches where Spider-Man’s suit fails to load and it looks like his body disappeared, or the fact that he can’t go into the subway or enter shops. Rather than argue for or against the merit of Spider-Man 2’s open-world design choices, some Xbox fans have tried to spin them as limitations of the game and the hardware behind it.
What’s making this conversation dumber than usual? A few things. One is that it’s been a while since Xbox actually had the type of big single-player exclusive for Sony fans to compare PlayStation’s first-party games against. Another is the recent closing of the Activision Blizzard acquisition, which has clearly reinvigorated Xbox fans and riled PlayStation’s. Then there’s the fact that as the actual differences between the competing consoles get so insignificant you need a 20-minute Digital Foundry analysis to walk the average player through them, fans are at the mercy of getting worked up over the smallest differences.
Finally, there’s the fact that under Elon Musk’s reign, X, formerly known as Twitter, has become a hotbed for the worst kinds of gamer engagement bait. The types of posts that used to be relegated to message boards or various gaming subreddits now overwhelm the rest of the conversation on an almost daily basis. Twitter is not real life and most players never see what blows up on it, but it did used to be a place you could go and find out cool, interesting, and meaningful things about the space. It’s not an accident that Twitter is one of only two apps where you can easily share all of your gaming clips and screenshots.