As Described in On the Vocabulary of Role-Playing by Phil Masters
Found on RPG.net, 1999
Modes (Child, Parent, and Adult): Terms for styles of behavior, borrowed from a brand of pop psychology by the author of this article, who feels they deserve wider currency within the hobby. Three Modes are defined.
“Child-Mode” behavior is playful, irreverent, and frivolous.
“Parent-Mode” behavior involves criticism of others and an unspoken assertion of superiority.
“Adult-Mode” behavior is practical and pragmatic, and accepts responsibility for necessary tasks.
Role-players and their characters tend to demonstrate all three modes; arguably, a good campaign demands all three.
GMs operate primarily in Adult-Mode; Child-Mode behavior can destroy the atmosphere and sense of structure in a game, and Parent-Mode GM’ing tends to be perceived as restrictive and coercive. The players have more freedom, and often amuse themselves by shifting to Child-Mode, but if they wish to achieve a goal, some Adult-Mode behavior is necessary. Parent-Mode play is rare, but not unknown, especially from players who become annoyed with others who will not shift out of Child-Mode, or with other problems of any kind.
Character behavior tends to reflect the player Mode – but not always completely; a Child-Mode player may depict a character behaving in a ludicrously excessive Adult-Mode or Parent-Mode way, while an Adult-Mode player can acknowledge a character’s tendency to behave in any Mode. Parent-Mode players tend to make their characters behave in Parent-Mode, but may “pointedly” shift to Adult Mode.