No, in this post you will not find the algorithm of entertainment, the theorem of thrills or the postulate of pleasure. But you will find details on how one unlikely game may, accidentally, calculate fun.
The game is Dante's Inferno, EA's enjoyable and lurid re-imagining of the classic poem. The application of a possible mathematical formula for fun will be available in late April, when the game's owners can download an expansion pack called The Trials Of St. Lucia.
Players can create and modify battle sequences in the new expansion, generating up to 150 waves of locked-room battle challenges full of enemies and traps for one or two players to fight through. The game will score these challenges using a semi-secret algorithm. If the score isn't high enough, the levels the player creates won't be allowed onto EA's servers for other gamers to download.
Why not? It seemed, when I first heard about it, because the game had the amazing ability to determine if the levels were interesting enough, if the player had done a good job, if the player, perhaps, had made them fun enough.
On our Kotaku podcast yesterday, Dante's Inferno producer Hans ten Cate explained just what the game will actually be calculating:
"We have the notion that, as you put more things in your challenge [level], whether it's more enemies or you tune their difficulty, there is a point value you'll see in the corner of your screen. It goes up a tick every time you make your trial either a little longer or a little harder. And that point value will be the points the players earn if they beat your challenge. So you're basically setting the conditions of the game."
When this feature had first been explained to me, a couple of weeks ago, I was told that sequences that players create that have fewer than 500 points won't be uploaded. So much for rendering a version of Hell in which very little happens, a sort of poetic treatise on the Hellish despair of dull life. It seems that would not score me the 500 points to share.
What to make of this formula, though?
"I'd like to think, as you said, that this algorithm we're using underneath actually computes the fun," ten Cate told me, "because if we actually nailed that, a mathematical formula that derives what fun is, I'd want to patent that."
Sadly, we'll have to still stick with human beings to determine what is fun. Or will we? The possibly Nobel-prize winning fun-determining Trials of St. Lucia will be out in late April. And if that thing can prevent things that are not fun from being shared online, well, EA, congratulations!