Hong Kong (Kwun Tong)
In old Norse mythology the Aesir are the principal gods of the pantheon. In present day Hong Kong AESIR is an augmented reality and virtual reality company creating ‘special’ games with a ‘serious’ side. The happy ‘edutainment’ tools include colourful mobile apps and multimedia playbooks.
In 2014 Ernest Chan found himself on a period of soul-searching provoked by a stint in a corporate job in Sweden. While volunteering at a youth centre drawing class, he saw a child with special needs trying to get attention by painting his own face. The 24-year-old knew then that he wanted to change the landscape for children and adults with special educational needs (SEN). Cut to today and Ernest is producing storytelling games such as ‘biblical holograms’.
Now an award-winning social enterprise, AESIR works with health professionals, therapists, teachers and parents to co-design colourful mobile apps and multimedia ‘playbooks’ (interactive physical book designs that works with the app) to make learning enjoyable. The play therapy is ‘serious’ because the interactive ‘edutainment’ enriches emotional literacy and social connection. Games can help analytical thinking, reasoning and spatial ability. But, more importantly, they’re fun. Ernest remembers the “sunshine smile” of the child who first galvanised him.
The entrepreneur decided to call the games ‘AESIR’ after the Norse gods and goddesses who get their powers by wielding specially made tools, such as a spear or hammer – because, Ernest tell us, “We believe all people can be as powerful as Odin or Thor with the right and appropriate support. We are all unique and special. Some of us might need special tools to unleash our potential.”
“We magically combine visual technology such as AR and VR with traditional therapeutic training,” Ernest explains. That ‘magic’ includes award-winning infrared human-scale motion tracking sensor technology that is designed for children with mental disorders in their journey of rehabilitation – teaching everything from increased focus to emotional health.
For example, 1 Minute Game Play is a motion sensor game that builds focus with fun. “Attention is like a muscle – the more you practice using it, the stronger it grows.” Meanwhile, Happy Kingdom is an AR playbook that focuses on positive psychology. SEN children with learning disabilities, autism or hyperactivity disorders can keep record of incidents that made them happy with the mobile app on a daily basis. The Pitchdeck app helps them record emotions and feelings to help their therapists and parents understand them better.
Before AESIR, members of Ernest’s team were volunteers in special needs nonprofit organisations. “We realised how repetitive the training was and what the difficulties were. So we started making training material with augmented reality to help a group of autistic children.” But they didn’t have any startup capital. “We were pleased that later on we got funded by Good Seed under the Hong Kong Polytechnic University as well as the Hong Kong government social innovation fund.”
Ernest is earnest about problem solving. Many children in Hong Kong are taken care of by domestic helpers. “In developed countries the annual growth of the special needs population is around 8%. They require intensive professional resources to help with rehabilitation and learning. AESIR games teach life skills and positive habits and also contribute to health and personal development professionally and non-invasively.” He wants to meet the rising demand for support by working with partners.
With Shine, a vocational training school for disabled children, and Raimondi College, a catholic school with gifted students, AESIR is developing storytelling games such as a biblical hologram to facilitate their ‘Teach and Learn’ process with AR and VR games. Ernest also offers internships for Shine students to participate in AESIR’s commercial work – so that they can transition from client to team member. “Together we’re sending a message to our partners and friends that there is no boundary to one’s talent. The key is how we bring out the best.”
Having been named one of Asia’s Top 12 Social Enterprises in 2016, AESIR’s serious games for social inclusion have reached eight schools in Hong Kong and Ernest is planning to set up a training and education centre in the coming years. It will focus on innovation in SEN to provide professional support to doctors, psychologists and therapists. “We want to make our next generation shine together under a shared vision of building an inclusive society.”
“It takes creativity and cultural understanding to create a better future for all,” he adds. “Like playing a game, the first thing is to know the rules. And cultural understanding is one of the most important rules.“
AtlasAction: AESIR would like to recruit professional volunteers (both physically in Hong Kong and virtually around the world) for training on how to support special needs and help in their programmes. If you interested please drop them a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ernest Chan, Founder
This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.
Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.