Rightly or wrongfully, I use ‘writing’ to refer to just about anything in a game where the essence can be mostly captured with words. Things that could be, and likely were, described by the originator to the executor.
I have a similar point of view with movies- I don’t make much of a distinction between writing and directing. “Writing” is just the central creative force that isn’t music, acting, or the specific details of production design.
If a character suddenly appearing in 16th century garb produces and effect in of itself, I’d ascribe that success to the writer. Only if the effect relied on the actual details of the garb (such that any competent 16th century costume wouldn’t do), then I’d ascribe the success, creatively speaking, to the costume designer.
I don’t know if anyone would agree with that perspective, but from my point of view there remains this counterproductive distinction in game design of the writer as the person that creates dialogue and synopses. I feel like you had a similar thing in old movies where the writer was basically a novelist or playwright that handed this document to the crew which in turn was filming something not far from a play.
In that sense Ueda’s compliment to Miyazaki (create concepts that can only be expressed through video games) is like Hitchcock’s to Spielberg:
young Spielberg is the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch
Spielberg’s response to that was:
“What? What did he say, again?” Spielberg has never heard this Hitchcock quote before. “Well! If he really said that, you just made my last four decades. You’re responsible for making my last four decades. I’ve never heard that!”
I wasn’t alive when Spielberg was making his mark, but when I’d like to think I that when I watch Jaws that I get what Hitchcock was saying based on what I’ve seen of movies from the early 70’s and prior (though I have no clue if Spielberg was the ‘first’).
For me, the best written games are those that best craft a ‘player experience’. I feel like studios instinctively get all this, and just about every aspect of modern game design except writing goes with this flow. So you get these fully realized experiences narrated by some failed novelist’s attempt at a script. Horizon: Zero Dawn could literally be read from start to finish with the found documents in an appendix (which is essentially how they’re presented in game).
As far as games I think have great writing, there are of course the usual candidates like Witcher 3 and Dark Souls, but I’d also nominate games like Team Fortress 2, Company of Heroes, and Into the Breach where the writing doesn’t feel constrained by a traditional notion of ‘storytelling’. Hell, Devil’s Daggers is practically a well written game in my book.