Visiting the Immersive arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival is always challenging. Every year, there are way more virtual reality and augmented reality experiences to try out (not to mention creators to interview) than I can squeeze into just a couple of hours. This year, as always, I was only able to check out a handful of projects.

They ranged from the serious and political to the playful and colorful — though even the playful projects were still exploring some ideas about creativity and human connection. Terminal 3, for example, uses augmented reality to put the viewer in the position of an interrogator with airport security: You meet and interview a Muslim traveler, and you get to choose from different questions before ultimately deciding whether or not they should be allowed into the country.

Artist Asad J. Malik told me that as someone who grew in Pakistan, “I’m an expert on [airport] screenings, because I get screened a lot.” For Terminal 3, Malik interviewed real people (one of the options is an interview with Malik himself), though the person you see in front of you doesn’t appear photorealistic. Instead, they’re almost like a digital ghost who might gradually become more lifelike, depending on the questions you ask.

Malik said that he’s not trying to promote a specific political message about Muslims, except to illustrate the enormous variety of personalities, backgrounds and viewpoints among people who may or may not identify themselves as Muslims, but “who the world would identify as Muslims.” Terminal 3 was created with support from Unity for Humanity and RYOT (a virtual reality-focused studio that, like TechCrunch, is part of Verizon subsidiary Oath). It’s built for Microsoft Hololens — not exactly the most popular platform at Tribeca, but Malik said it was crucial to his approach, because it allows the interview to take place against the background of the real room: “Suddenly this story, this person, it’s in your real space.” Meanwhile, Lambchild Superstar: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow makes no attempt to replicate a real environment. Instead, it takes place in a virtual world of dazzlingly bright colors, populated by animals who can be manipulated to make music — for example, a cow whose tail you can grab and reposition to change the sound made by his farts.

Something like the “Upside Down & Inside Out” video (which shows the band flying weightlessly) might seem like a good candidate for 360-degree video, but Kulash said it actually turns out to be “not really about the environment.” Instead, it’s presenting you with an experience in “a very controlled rectangle.” So Kulash and Milk decided to explore a different direction, namely allowing users to make create their own music. But Milk noted that if you give most people a guitar or a piano, they might get intimidated, because they don’t know how to play it: “There’s a barrier there.” Hence the funny environment and animals; it feels more like playing a game than performing music, but you emerge at the end with a unique song. Read more from…

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