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When not occupied by his day job, or his young family or his ongoing DIY home renovations, Matt Bouchard spends his free time wrapping up a PhD through the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. The computer consultant’s thesis is on interfaces, and specifically how people find meaning in non-meaningful game situations—in other words, he studies why people play Candy Crush on their phones. “The literature says video games are about storytelling and graphics,” Matt says. “And those aren’t really present on a phone. So what’s happening?”

Matt’s thesis requires him to talk to a lot of people about their video-game habits, which turns out to be a surprisingly difficult topic to broach directly. Ask someone why they play a certain game, and you tend to get a stock answer: “I like to play with my friends,” maybe, or “I’m just addicted.” So instead, Matt just chats with them, asking them what games they played before, what made them stop and so on. Before long, informal chatter turns into valuable data.

That approach mirrors Matt’s interest in public engagement, which he avoided for a long time, for fear of overextending himself. This project for the City, by contrast, has allowed him to contribute in a more manageable way. Which is good, because Matt strongly believes that a vibrant city depends on citizens like him stepping outside of their personal bubbles every now and then.

“If we were all living by ourselves, we could afford to be selfish,” Matt says. “But we have to live together, and so I think it makes sense to share a bit of labour amongst ourselves to try to make the whole better. We all have to do what we can to maximize what we do for the whole, and make reasonable the part we do just for ourselves.”

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