It used to be easy for nongamers to dismiss videogames as child’s play, since that’s how the medium largely began.
But that’s getting harder, as global videogame revenue in 2014 totaled nearly $70 billion* worldwide. For comparison, the total domestic gross for all movies in the U.S. in 2013, according to Box Office Mojo, was just short of $11 billion; in the same year, the American gaming industry made more than $21 billion, according to the trade group ESA.
Running alongside this business story is a cultural one. Despite the concerted efforts of sexist “fans” who would seek to keep the industry stuck in the past, games are increasingly saying things that matter. Particularly in the diverse independent games scene, solo developers and small teams are creating games from ideas that would not make it out of committee at a big studio.
With all that in mind, here is a list of games that even nongamers should try in order to understand some big industry trends.
(If you have any suggestions for this list, please tweet at me).
There are many, many games built around the idea of collecting cards, building a deck out of those cards and battling against other collectors. Hearthstone builds on its predecessors with warm characters, a high degree of polish and, crucially, straightforward controls that feel natural on both PC and tablet. It’s a free-to-play game that, at least in the experience of everyone with whom I’ve discussed it, doesn’t leave players feeling ripped off when they make a purchase. That’s no small feat.
At the 2014 Masters Tournament, winner Bubba Watson finished with 280 strokes over 72 holes. In Desert Golfing, I’m on hole 3,694 with 10,235 strokes so far. The mobile game is both a simple time-waster and a weirdly Zen, minimalist experience. There’s no retry or reset button, which means every mistake is frustratingly permanent. But with some patience, you learn to accept this permanence … and keep chipping and putting away.
This War of Mine
I’ve only just started playing this after seeing it on numerous “Best of 2014” lists, and was very quickly drawn in. Most war games turn the player into a heavily armed ubermensch, but This War of Mine throws away the curtain and focuses on the living civilian victims of war, scraping by in a bombed-out town where there’s never enough of anything. You collect and craft resources — a game mechanic I most strongly associate with Minecraft — but here, you’re not going on an adventure or building a crazy house. The only real goal is to survive as long as possible.
This only comes in fourth on the list because I didn’t want to end on a downer note. Fibbage is just a downright fun console party game. Players sitting around the same TV screen use their smartphones to answer a trivia question with a wrong answer, in the hope of tricking other players into thinking it’s right. It combines two of the past year’s most surprising trends: The resurgence of “local multiplayer” games (played offline, in the same room), and the use of phones and tablets as game controllers.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.