Is there a field that can though?
Because in every field I can think of, what is essentially execution gets frequently treated as if it was good writing or the like, even when writing is all that there is. An easy place to see that is genre novels. They are nothing but writing, I mean barring a cover or a particularly good reading for an audiobook, yet even professional reviewers, even reviewers who are themselves successful and lauded writers are frequently unable to distinguish between a book that is brilliantly written, and a book that is merely “a good read” - and sometimes the reverse happens as well - a book that’s just not a good book gets well-reviewed because it’s written in an elaborate or daring way.
It seems weird to me because the distinction between something like, say (sticking to genre novels), Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series, which is utterly brilliantly written, has something to say, and means something, and trope-y and facile, but very competently executed stuff like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series seems clear as night and day. But to most readers, and most reviewers, they apparently seem to be on the same level.
Oddly it’s only when you get a more outside perspective that reviews seem to understand the difference. If you put them in front of a reviewer used to more literary works, they’ll usually immediately spot how well-written and erudite Wolfe’s works are.
We can say the same about television and film to a significant extent. Stuff that works really well, that’s very well-executed, is treated as well as stuff that’s extremely well written, sometimes better. And more importantly to your point, they’re seemingly seen as interchangeable - a well-written film and a well-executed film are both “good”. Also, a lot of films that are, frankly, borderline trash in terms of writing, and not the good kind of trash, get written up as if they were something else, for various reasons. Crash is a good example of this - not the '90s Cronenberg Crash which was amazing/horrific (if ultimately meaningless), but the dreadful 2004 tear-jerker/weak-ass emotional-manipulation-fest. It was extremely well-reviewed at the time, and I saw it and went “What the fuck? This is utter manipulative cheese of the crappiest kind…” - and I wasn’t alone in feeling this. The fact that it then won the Best Picture Oscar was pretty vexing too.
With time, if something remains the public eye it’ll usually get reassessed and that is where I think you do sometimes seem to see some separation. Crash is now generally poorly regarded, particularly after Ta-Nehisi Coates (who I often mildly disagree with, but not here!) named it “worst film of the decade” in a scathing, brutal and very accurate review. Paul Haggis himself (the writer and director of the movie) said it shouldn’t have won and wasn’t the best movie that year (naming several that were better). Haggis posited that the movie had touched people, and that it was an emotional response rather than it actually being good that did it.
Why am I going on about Crash? Because I think that last point is still really a big deal in computer games. A game that isn’t terrible well-written, but that does manage to land with it’s core audience, even if it’s later going to see hokey or dubious is going to get reviewed as if it’s extremely well-written specifically, like that is literally something that people will say about it.
Three specific examples in gaming - The Last of Us, Witcher 3 and BioShock Infinite. Attempting to speak objectively, TLoU is better written than most games, but it’s really not “well-written”, and doesn’t have a huge amount to say, even within the genre. I’d say something like ME2 even had more going on than TLoU, writing-wise (and DA2 certainly did). Yet TLoU is regarded as top-tier, writing-wise. Why? Mostly dadification. It’s utterly dadified game, largely about an man protecting his teenage psuedo-daughter.
Witcher 3 isn’t as well-written as it is reputed to be. Most of the game’s reputation rests on one somewhat misogynist (but defensible) quest-chain in the mid-early game (thus which everyone sees), which is well-written and, importantly, very well-executed (in terms of VA, cutscene “cinematography”, pacing, and so on). If you took The Bloody Baron out of the game (which you could do whilst barely changing it), or had the same words, but with more pedestrian execution (say some nice DA:I-style 3rd-person conversations ugh), I think TW3 would not have the same reputation. There are other good scenes, occasionally, but most of it is just trite, trope-y “People suck” stuff and Geralt’s relationships are full of cringe-worthy dialogue.
BioShock Infinite was not only praised to high heaven as “game of the year” and so on when it came out, despite being a mediocre and unoriginal shooter (again, this was obvious at the time), and relevantly, praised for it’s writing. Writing which is pretty terrible, really, and features possibly the most egregious case of tone-deaf “BOTH SIDES ARE BAD!!!”-ism in any AAA game (wherein oppressed racial minorities and brutally oppressed working class people are written as child-killing, city-burning savages in an attempt to make them “as bad” as the actual bad guys and justify the dumbest face-heel turn since Orsino in DA2). Rarely has a game so obviously been written by a bunch of out-of-touch self-regarding, well-off white guys (well, I mean, okay there’s all of the Quantic Dream* games, but you get my point!). BioShock Infinite is the “Crash” of computer games, that’s for sure.
So anyway I guess I just wanted to talk about how it’s not just games which can’t distinguish between good writing and good execution or effective-for-the-audience writing and actually good writing.
- = I mean because I mentioned them I have to get this dig in - Dave Cage, the main writer for and dude in charge of Quantic Dreams is such a profoundly dumb piece of shit that he said his most recent game was “like Blade Runner if you were supposed to sympathize with the replicants”. “If you were supposed to”. Jesus fucking wept. As someone one the internet put it “Like Blade Runner, only Blade Runner”.