I’ve been thinking really really hard about Burning Wheel because I took its philosophy into other aspects of my life, and turned it into something profoundly more productive than I think even Luke realized it could be when he wrote it. I’m leading with that because that means I have pretty strong biases and possibly a greater degree of emotional investment in this topic than others, so, grains of salt.
If you think about the purpose of a tabletop RPG, like what this game format allows us to do - it’s a tool that allows socially awkward and marginalized nerds to practice their social skills in a safe environment with rules and boundaries. We practice being our best selves in an environment of mutual emotional vulnerability. Games teach us real-life skills, and so RGP’s, by allowing us to create proxy people, teach us the skills of life. They let us learn how to actually be people, and to think about how we conduct ourselves.
Out there in the real world, when interacting in intersectional spaces, we often have to think about what it means for us to be our “best” self. What does that look like, anywhere we are? This is most critically necessary for privileged people interacting in spaces with marginalized people - those in the margins ask that you self-analyze and commit to improvement, and take steps in that direction.
Burning Wheel very literally teaches you how to do that. Character Priorities are Player Priorities means that you pay attention to what the other people at the table are telling you is important to them, and you take that as inspiration for your own actions. Boy, sounds a lot like taking the cues that marginalized people give you in intersectional spaces, doesn’t it?
In order to play Burning Wheel effectively, you have to clearly articulate what is important to you, you have to advocate for it in a shared space, and you have to carve out space in your own story to allow you to be influenced by others. You have to give up some of your own ego in pursuit of developing a version of your priorities directly inspired by other people at that table. You create a persona that explores what matters to you, and you evolve it depending on how the people around you react and how you allow that reaction to guide you.
I mean really, look at what I wrote. That’s what’s happening at the Burning Wheel table. I’m not exaggerating, it’s just what the Burning Wheel philosophy is supposed to do. Luke wrote about it, more or less exactly as that.
You can take those lessons into life and, guess what, if you keep other people’s priorities in mind while also advocating for your own, turns out it will make you a better person. You will learn to actually give a shit about other people and their feelings, but also to not be a home to literally everything that comes your way. It’s all about boundaries and choices and consent.
I’m a community leader elsewhere (I’m a Laurel in the SCA, for anyone who knows what that means), and I have taken the lessons of Burning Wheel into a LARP-adjacent space that focuses on personal growth and development, and have actually helped people become legitimately better people with these lessons. I emphasize an idealized version of the medieval concept of Franchise (appropriately expressed in BW as the Noblesse Oblige trait) - the people around you need you to play a certain role, and if you listen they will tell you what it is. You can’t completely live your life for someone else, but you can decide what your Best Self looks like, and you should carve out a vision of you that puts forth who you want to be, inspired by the needs of the people for whom you want to be that person.
The shit really does work if you dig in and figure out what it’s telling you to do.
Luke betrayed those principles that he enshrined in that book, but that does not actively negate the value of those principles. In many ways, I think it underlines the importance and value of the Burning Wheel approach. This is exactly the kind of betrayal of principles that would earn you a Persona point and then set up an arc of painful redemption. Well fuckin guess what, life is you writing the story of yourself, so Luke needs to decide who Luke is and what that version of Luke would do to be the best Luke possible.
That’s a lot of complicated feelings but what it boils down to for me is that I am, in my mind, separating “Luke Who Wrote Burning Wheel” from “Luke Who Showed The Internet His Ass,” and then also telling people that Present Luke needs to take a hard look and live up to the promises of Past Luke.
And Burning Wheel is a whole set of tools telling you how to do that effectively.
I’m not about “separating the artist from the art,” fuck that. Art is political and politics is telling people what you’re about, so your art is you.
Luke Crane can both be the guy who wrote the incredibly impactful Burning Wheel, and also the guy who totally fucked up living up to his own ideas. That’s honestly extremely human, almost comically so. His need to learn and grow does not change the value of the previous thing he made.
I think you can use it as a convention demo, but if you do, you need to be honest about the situation and let players decide if they want to engage content from that kind of creator. I do think this is different from the usual situation like this, though, in that the actual philosophy of Burning Wheel is so radically opposed to Luke’s conduct in this situation that you might not actually know one proceeded from the other.
At least with JK Rowling, you can look at the Potter series and say “actually that was a pretty racist depiction, and also this part actually seems anti-Semitic,” but I’m pretty hard-pressed to find an example in Burning Wheel where ignoring other people’s feelings and priorities in favor of your own is actually lauded or encouraged in any way.
tl;dr: Don’t separate the artist and the art, but instead recognize that people are not entirely bad or entirely good, and that we all have different versions of ourselves at different times. A good thing can come from someone who is otherwise a fuckup, and we can consider the good thing good while also holding the fuckup accountable to being as good as the thing they made.
Basically, hold people to the standards they already set.