Parlor Games

Before Board Games, Card Games, Tabletop Games, Video Games, and Web Games came along, people just had their own persons to play games with guests. These are known as Parlor Games. In the past, these were used in fiction for the same purpose as Board Games are these days. Nowadays, it's either a Discredited Trope used to show how boring or geeky the people playing are, or it's used as an actual Plot Device.

  • Simon Says, a children's game where someone gives orders (usually silly things like "clap your hands" or "jump up and down"). Everyone playing has to follow the commands as long as they're preceded by "Simon says". So if "Simon says clap your hands" you have to clap, but just "clap your hands", you don't. You're out if you either follow the command without the "Simon says" or don't follow it when they do say it. One variation has Simon do an action in addition to saying one, but you must do what "Simon says". Usually, Simon will do and say the same thing, but it could lead to situations where "Simon says clap your hands" but he physically jumps up and down as a trick; the proper action is to clap your hands. Last of the group still in usually gets to be the next one to call out the orders. This game can be challenging enough that it can still be used legitimately in fiction.
  • Twenty Questions, a game where, counting the first question (usually if it's animal, vegetable, or mineral), the players can ask no more than twenty questions to guess what the active player is thinking of, and all questions after the first must be the "yes or no" kind. Usually parodied now instead of played straight. Computers can play it quite well, e.g. 20Q and Akinator.
    • Who Am I? is an inverted variant where each player has a post-it note on their forehead and take turns to ask the other players questions to figure out what's written on it (normally a famous person's name). Often played straight and used for the silliness of everyone having post-its on their heads. The names on the notes will often reflect or contrast with the person they're given to.
  • I Spy, a guessing game similar to but even more basic than Twenty Questions. The active player thinks of something within their line of sight and tells everyone else its color or first letter. They try to guess what it is. Only ever played by really bored characters.
  • Musical Chairs, is usually just played in children's parties now. Someone sets up enough chairs for all but one of the players to sit on. They walk in a circle while some music is played for a short time. As soon as it stops, everyone tries to sit in a chair, often resulting in a Big Ball of Violence. The one who can't is out, and one chair is removed for the next round, until one chair is left, and the one sitting is the winner.
  • Charades, nowadays the lowest of these games in fiction. Unless it takes place in the past, it rarely is portrayed for any reason other than to show what losers the players are. It is played by acting out the words the active player is thinking, puns and homophones allowed. The only other clue was to hold up a finger for each word in the answer, and fingers for which word is being played. Such improvised Hand Signals are sometimes used by a character to attempt to convey information which for whatever reason, such as being mute, they cannot simply say aloud.
    • Pictionary is Charades with drawings, where one partner must draw the clue instead of acting it out. This variant is more common in animation for obvious reasons. Sometimes the drawings aren't seen by the viewer.
  • Blind Man's Bluff, is usually seen in portrayals of older times. One player is blindfolded, while the others hide. The blind man has to find the other players. This game is sometimes depicted as a flirtatious man looking for giggling young women in a parlor.
    • Marco Polo is a variation on Blind Man's Bluff, with three differences: a) It usually takes place in water, such as a pool. b) The hunter doesn't wear a blindfold, but rather just keep their eyes shut. c) Most importantly, the hunter can call out "Marco!" as often as they like, and if the hunted ones hear it then they must respond with "Polo!". It's pretty much a miniature version of submarine warfare, sonar and all.
  • Truth or Dare is stereotypically most common at a slumber party, but can take place in other situations as well. The very point of this game is to elicit personal revelations if someone picks "Truth," or wacky hijinks if someone picks "Dare"; therefore, just by playing the game normally, it's quite likely that the events of the game will generate results interesting enough to be the plot of a story. Fan Fic writers know this very well, and Truth or Dare fics are practically a genre.
  • I Never is a similar game to Truth or Dare. Usually played more as a drinking game, although other forfeits are common. The premise is for one person to say something which (hopefully truthfully...or not, as the case may be) they have never done, and all the other players have to commit the forfeit if they have done that thing.
  • Spin the Bottle and Ten Minutes in the Closet (or whatever variation) are the classic young-coed-teen-party games. In the first one, sit in a circle, take turns spinning a bottle and kiss the first member of the opposite sex it points to. In the second, pull names/number out of a hat to form couples and go into the closet for two minutes and... amuse yourselves in some fashion. This is often a way to trap/nudge a character into his/her First Kiss, to set up/exacerbate romantic jealousies or to contrast different levels of sexual activity among a bunch of kids of the same age. There will be much awkwardness, blushing and wiping of sweaty palms.
  • Mafia divides the players into two teams. One team is initially much smaller than the other, but the composition of the teams is unknown to the members of the larger team. The game alternates between turns during which the larger team keep their eyes shut, allowing the smaller team to communicate in secrecy, and turns during which all players claim they belong to the larger team. The elimination of a player is debated every turn. Paper sheets or cards are often used to create the teams at the beginning and to "unmask" any player who was just eliminated. A referee is normally required. Furthermore, a single player of the larger team has a hidden turn of his own, during which he learns the true allegiance of another player. Additional roles and teams can be introduced, potentially leading to at least one Double Reverse Quadruple Agent. In fictional works, Ten Little Murder Victims will sometimes play this kind of game right before it becomes the plot.



  • The villain of Die Hard with a Vengeance used Simon Says in his games. His name is Simon, so he has a lot of fun with it.
  • Twenty Questions was parodied in Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey. It was a tank, and Ted guessed it in two questions.
    Ted: Are you a mineral?
    Bill: Yeah.
    Ted: Are you a tank?
    Bill: Yeah!
  • Common in adaptations of A Christmas Carol, which has a scene where Nephew Fred and his Christmas party play parlor games, though adaptations sometimes change up which games are being played:
    • Nephew Fred and his party play Twenty Questions in the 1951 version of Scrooge.
    • In the 1984 A Christmas Carol, the party is playing "Similes". Fred would say the first part of a common expression, such as "Quiet as..." or "Tight as...", which the player would then have to fill in (in these examples, 'a mouse' and 'a drum', respectively). The answer given, though, is "As tight as your Uncle Ebenezer's pockets."
    • The Blind Man's Bluff appears in the 1999 A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart playing Scrooge.
  • In Young Frankenstein, Frankenstein is strangled by the monster, and tries use charades to tell Igor and Inga to administer a "sedative". Their guesses include "said-a-give" and "said a dirty word".
    Frankenstein: SEDA-GIVE?!
  • Demolition Man: Big Bad Simon Phoenix references Simon Says as a sort of Catch Phrase:
    Phoenix: Simon says bleed!
    Phoenix: Simon says die!
  • Mozart and his wife play Musical Chairs at a party in the film version of Amadeus.
  • The original script of The Cabin in the Woods included a modified "Truth, Dare or Lecture," which apparently Joss Whedon and his friends used to play. The lecture bit was cut for time, but the Truth or Dare stays in the final cut of the movie.
  • A trailer for Monsters, Inc. (that played before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in theaters) has Mike and Sulley playing a game of Charades where Sulley tries to act out "Harry Potter" to Mike, to no avail. At the end, it's Mike's turn and Sulley correctly guesses "Star Wars" almost instantly.
  • In Since You Went Away (1944), the Hiltons like to play Charades. Uber-dignified Col. Smollett has to act out "bottoms up".
  • An Overly Long Gag in the Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races has Stuffy (Harpo) spend an entire scene using charades to explain the villains' Frame-Up plot to Tony (Chico).


  • Jane Eyre features what is most possibly the most elaborate game of Charades ever. They make sets.
  • Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present observe Twenty Questions being played at Fred's Christmas party in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The "animal" in question turns out to be "Uncle Scrooge". There is also a game of Blind Man's Bluff, in which the Lemony Narrator expresses the opinion that one guest, who unerringly pursues Fred's sister-in-law, could probably see through the blindfold.
  • In Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa and Metzger play a game they refer to as "Strip Botticelli" while drunk, but they don't actually get that far and Metzger ends up taking his clothes off anyway.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers uses parlor games in several of her short stories. In one "the Prime Minister's Speech on the Wireless" was ruled out of order in "Twenty Questions" as there was a dispute about its being 'animal' or 'a kind of gas.'
  • Discworld
    • In Guards! Guards!, the Librarian (an orangutan) has to resort to Charades to explain to Carrot about a stolen book, while resenting the fact that dogs, horses and dolphins don't have nearly as much trouble getting a message to humans.
    • In Hogfather interminable parlour games, and the inevitable rows over them, are part of the wizards' litany of complaints about Hogswatch.

Live-Action Television
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Parlor Game", Miss Brooks invents a complicated parlor version of Calvinball, in order to push Mr. Conklin into taking his family out for the evening as a more palatable alternative.
  • Wings used Simon Says as a plot device, and an Actually Pretty Funny moment.
  • At one point in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike and Harmony play Twenty Questions. First question: is it bigger than a breadbox? Second question: is it smaller than a breadbox? It's a sodding breadbox.
  • Kate and Sawyer play I Never in a Season 1 episode of Lost.
  • There was an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch wherein in order to undo the wacky spell-gone-awry of the week, Sabrina had to get someone to say a certain phrase — but of course, Sabrina wasn't able to actually say it herself, because that would make things too easy. So instead, she initiated a game of charades and tried to get the person to say the phrase that way.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp," the Doctor has been poisoned with cyanide, but can cleanse his system with only a few ingredients. Unfortunately, his mouth is full when he needs to tell Donna what he needs and a hilarious game of charades ensues:
    Donna: I can't understand you... How many words? One! One word! Shake...milk-shake...milk?! No, not milk. Shake, shake, shake?! Cocktail shaker! What do you want, a Harvey Wallbanger?
    Donna: Well, I don't know!
    The Doctor: How is "Harvey Wallbanger" one word?!
  • Two games of Charades were played in a courtroom sketch in a Monty Python's Flying Circus episode. Go here and search for "We have, m'lud."
    We find the defendant Not Guil-cup.
  • Michael on The Office plays Charades in "Dinner Party," but he can't resist cheating. "Rhymes with Parnold Schporzenegger."
    • He and the client also play Truth or Dare with an unwitting Jan.
  • The Three's Company episode "Jack Bares All (aka Oh Nurse), Part 2" has Mr. Furley introducing a game where each player makes up a question one word at a time. They don't like it, so they play a game in which everybody has to imitate another partygoer. Hilarity Ensues.
  • On an episode of Veronica Mars, in a Flashback, we see Veronica, Duncan, Lily and Logan play "Truth or Dare". Then they play "I Never". Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the Friends episode "The One With All the Poker", Monica says Ross is ridiculously competitive, and Pheobe brings up "the Pictonary Incident", where a plate (according to Monica) slipped out of her hand while she was guesturing. During the closing credits, they're playing Pictionary again, and when everyone fails to get Monica's clue and she reaches for her glass, they all dive behind the sofa.
  • Truth or Dare is used as a bonding exercise in The Kicks episode "Choosing Sides." It starts out fun, but one Armor-Piercing Question from Mirabelle turns it into an argument.

Newspaper Comics
  • FoxTrot had a comic where Roger and Andy played Pictionary. Andy drew what was very obviously a boat, but Roger struggled to figure out what it was, suggesting such things as "a Christmas tree in a cereal bowl". When she wrote "boat" at the bottom of the page, he thought it was some kind of "Pictionary shorthand".

  • Various parlour games are played in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. The most famous is Sound Charades, which has been adapted to be more suited to an audio medium. For others like Blind Man's Bluff, Musical Chairs and Hunt the Slipper, the joke is that they haven't, and for all the audience at home know it's possible (perhaps likely) that the teams aren't doing anything.

Professional Wrestling
  • The July 5, 2004 episode of WWE Raw featured Eugene, whose gimmick was of a child-like wrestling savant, as the General Manager for the night. He started the episode by having Ric Flair, Stacy Keibler, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Tyson Tomko, Jonathan Coachman and Jerry Lawler play a game of Musical Chairs to determine who got a title shot that night. Jericho won, earning a shot at Randy Orton's Intercontinental Heavyweight Title.

Stand-Up Comedy
  • Lenny Henry had a routine that distinguished a PARTY from a "party". At the latter, people are sitting around drinking wine, and there's one guy who insists on playing Charades.

  • In Evita, Juan Peron and other generals play a game of Musical Chairs to the music "The Art of the Possible," symbolizing Juan's rise to power in the chaos of post-revolutionary Argentina.

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Charade is an animated short about a Charades player who grows increasingly enraged as his obtuse audience cannot guess his increasingly elaborate and obvious clues.
  • When Adam West played Twenty Questions with himself on Family Guy. "Am I Bo Bice? Yes, I am."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Look Before You Sleep", Rarity, Applejack, and Twilight attempt to play Truth or Dare at a slumber party. As Applejack and Rarity are having a spat, it quickly degenerates into them daring each other to do increasingly objectionable things. At the end of the episode, the group plays 20 questions, which works a bit better.
  • The Peanuts special It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown has a song called "Lucy Says" in which Lucy takes over a game of Simon Says.
    Lucy's the boss, so listen to Lucy, and here's what Lucy says!
  • Batman: Under the Red Hood. The Red Hood has captured the Joker, who is rambling on as always.
    Joker: So, what's the plan? Slumber Party? Charades? A little Truth or Dare? YES! I'll start with dare!
    (Red Hood pulls out a crowbar and hefts it meaningfully)
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Slumber Party", Princess Pony Head drags Star, Marco, Jackie, and Starfan 13 into a magical game called "Truth or Punishment", which is basically Truth or Dare without the Dare. The game asks three questions, which get more personal as the game goes on, and if even one player doesn't answer the game's questions honestly they all have to pay increasingly severe penalties, whether it's suffering Electric Tickle Torture, becoming grotesquely ugly, or even the game box turning into a monster and attacking the players with death traps.