Calvin: I don't know. How do you play?
Susie: Okay... first, you come home from work. Then I come home from work. We'll gripe about our jobs, and then we'll argue over whose turn it is to microwave dinner.
A game in which children take on adult roles, focusing on domestic matters.
Playing "house" is a common game among young children, trying on adult roles seen around their homes. As opposed to the more boisterous Cowboys and Indians games, "house" revolves around day-to-day matters such as husband-and-wife negotiations, childcare (usually with dolls or pets in the "child" role), cooking (mud pies are the traditional fare) and tea parties. Stereotypically, this is a girls' game that boys are roped into with some degree of unwillingness. In Britain, this game is traditionally called "playing Mummies and Daddies."
In fiction, kids playing "house" can be evidence of a Toy Ship (though often one-sided), demonstrate a childish misunderstanding of family life (either innocently or because their home is actually that twisted), or be a commentary on the goings-on of the adults who are the main focus of the story. A common "bit" is a young boy forced into a humiliating "baby" or "mommy" role by an innocently sadistic female playmate.
Sometimes Innocent Cohabitation will jokingly be called "playing house" as the cohabitors fall into the roles of a married couple without the full benefits of same. It can also be used as a mocking euphemism for non-innocent cohabitation—the implication being that the relationship needs a legal marriage before it counts as real. (It's a more upscale version of the term: "shacking up")
See Promotion to Parent for a much sadder trope related to this.
- In Crayon Shin-chan, Ai declares to Penny that she's pregnant because she and Shin kissed while playing house. The Gag Dub has a suggestion of playing House, with the first response being "I get to be the handsome doctor." Yes, it was that House.
- Shizuru and Tomoe did this a few times near the end of Mai-Otome. When two grown women play house, it's not quite as innocent as usual. Shizuru X Natsuki shippers were not amused.
- Great Teacher Onizuka played house with Tomoko and discovered that she had a real talent for acting.
- In Doraemon, Nobita tried to use one of Doraemon's gadgets to get out of playing house with his younger cousin (as his friends were teasing him about how girly that was), but of course Hilarity Ensues.
- There's a variation in Haré+Guu where Marie gets everyone in Hale's family to play house with her, but she's the child and it ends up being a ploy to be able to get parental affection.
- Yotsuba and Ena play house briefly in the second volume of Yotsuba&!, before being distracted by the prospect of cake. Yotsuba later sets up house, complete with kitchen, under her father's desk. And then there's the zoo of wooden blocks ...
- In an episode of Urusei Yatsura, Lum goes ten years into the past and finds Shinobu playing house with Ataru. Young Ataru has a little difficulty with the concept of "pretend."
- In the Animated Adaptation of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, Touka (in her mid to late 20s) and Yumeha (4 or 5) have been seen playing house with a divorce theme several times throughout the season.
- In episode 5, they were finalizing a divorce when Yuuta walks in. He's not very pleased with what Touka is teaching his little sister.
- Again in episode 10, when they're in a divorce lawsuit.
- Once more in episode 11 when Touka leaves and Yumeha asks if she'll be allowed to see the kids.
- In an OVA of Engaged to the Unidentified, Kobeni remembers how she, Benio, and Nadeshiko played house as young children. Benio quickly put a stop to the game when Nadeshiko's setup outright states that Benio in the father role is unemployed after having been fired for sexual harassment.
- Non Non Biyori has Hotaru, Komari, and Renge all play house for a bit, with Hotaru as the mom, Komari as the dad, and Renge as a flying fish.
- In addition to the page quote above, Calvin and Susie of Calvin and Hobbes play house a few times, once with Calvin refusing to accept Mr. Bun as their child, and another ending with him deciding to be a jungle man and running off in his underwear. For these sequences, the strip has an Art Shift to a Mary Worth style soap opera comic.
- Margaret always wants to do this with Dennis in Dennis the Menace.
- Private Eye ran a cartoon in which we see a girl sitting on a blanket surrounded by dolls and a boy in the background escaping over a fence; the caption is "Playing Modern Mummies and Daddies" or somesuch.
- A flashback in Chapter 40 of the first story reveals that Serena loved to play this with her friends when she was little in The Road to be a Pokemon Master, with her as the mom, Gary and Leaf as the children, and naturally, Ash as the dad and her husband.
- In Judy Blume's Iggie's House, Winnie Barringer and the three Garber children play house in a house that's being constructed in the neighborhood while they're on their way to a picnic near the end of the story.
- Community: When Jeff hosts a party at his apartment, Annie comes over early to "help decorate," and immediately turns his Lonely Bachelor Pad into something that looks like the colorful and well-loved home of a married couple. Jeff rolls his eyes and asks if they have to have another talk about her trying to play house with him—but he still helps her with the set everything up. When their friends come over, they immediately compliment Annie's decorating skills.
- Mad Men uses this subtly to portray Stepford Suburbia; at Sally's birthday party, when the kids are playing in her new playhouse, they can be heard saying things to each other like, "I like sleeping on the couch." Helen Bishop, the one divorced mother in the neighborhood, comes outside fresh from being hit on by a male adult guest and sniped at by several female ones, and says to Don, "Interesting crowd in there." Don replies, "Same crowd out here."
- Pee-wee's Playhouse: Pee-Wee sometimes roped his friends into this. Playing house...in the Playhouse! What a concept!
- In country music, this subject is often played negatively, and is used to frame heartbreak, despair over male-dominated hierarchies in relationships and so forth. Examples:
- "I Don't Wanna Play House," a 1967 No. 1 country hit for Tammy Wynette. Here, Wynette takes the role of a young girl who tries to rebuff a little boy who wants to merely play a friendly game of "house." Her reasoning: "It makes my Mommy cry ... 'cause when she played house, my Daddy said, 'Goodbye'!" (That is, she saw her parents fighting and not getting along, and eventually he leaves his family behind.)
- "Kid Stuff," a No. 2 country hit in 1973 by Barbara Fairchild. A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairchild often put childhood themes into songs of heartbreak, and this follow up to her Signature Song "The Teddy Bear Song" carries on the trend, where a young woman — not-so-fondly recalling memories of playing house with a young neighbor boy, who insisted on dominating the proceedings, regardless of the girl's feelings — is now in a relationship where the man is the dominant figure and is either ignorant or uncaring when she objects. Unlike childhood, the woman bemoans that their relationship is real life, and not just the "kid stuff" of playing house.
- In the original text of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, Wendy, John and Michael play house in the nursery at the beginning of the play. Of course, the entire play ends up being a prolonged game of house with Wendy being the mother and all the Lost Boys and Peter being her children.
- Emma and Otacon from Metal Gear used to play house. They are step-siblings.
- Nowi from Fire Emblem Awakening likes to play house with her comrades, among other games. She's actually a dragon that's centuries old.
- In Delicious 9: Emily's Honeymoon Cruise two of the kids in the ship's daycare facility pretend to be the title character and her new husband.
Girl: No, I'm Emily and you're Patrick, and then we kiss and have babies.
Boy: Ew! Let's play pirates.
- In Kindergarten, some missions require the player character to play "house" with Cindy. It usually goes into dark themes like domestic abuse, alcoholism, cheating, and abortion which makes sense for a Crapsack World where the kids act way too mature.
- Bad Machinery: Mildred and Lottie pretend that their Wendy House (playhouse) has maintenance issues their friend Jack needs to fix. Mildred's mum lampshades that they're a bit old for this game. (They're covering up that they've converted the building into a skate ramp and are charging the neighborhood kids to use it.)
- Rugrats did it a lot.
- Family Guy did a version of this with Stewie and Oliva but Stewie ends up getting angry over the lack of sex... whatever that is. Some sort of cake?
- Ralph Bakshi's 1967 short The Mini-Squirts took this to its logical conclusion by turning the situation into a soap opera.
- Kaeloo: The episode "Let's Play House" has the characters play with Kaeloo as the mother, Mr. Cat as the father, Quack Quack as the daughter and Stumpy as the son. Unfortunately, it all goes horribly wrong, as usual.