Review of Terminal 3, by Asad J. Malik
While at Sheffield DocFest 2018, I had the pleasure of experiencing Terminal 3, an Augmented Reality experience by Asad J. Malik. In it, you take the role of a customs officer and interrogate a traveler trying to immigrate to the United States. It is based around Malik’s actual experience coming to the US through the real-life Terminal 3 in Abu Dhabi International Airport. You do not interview Malik directly, but you are assigned one of six real people as they tell you their real stories; I was assigned to interrogate Ayesha, a Pakistani woman originally born in Los Angeles. The experience takes place inside a Microsoft HoloLens headset, and a distorted of the traveler you are assigned to appears overlayed on the room, sitting in the chair in front of you. You are required to verbally ask questions, and as you go on you are given options of questions to choose from. The experience progresses differently depending on which questions you choose to ask and what decisions you make. At the end, you choose whether or not the traveler you talked to is free to proceed or must wait for further questioning.
What makes this project so interesting, to me, is the aforementioned interactivity. Most other interactive experiences tend to use button presses to make choices, but by forcing you to ask the question out loud the experience really immerses you and makes you feel like you are the customs officer. The experience itself uses AR and takes place in a makeshift interrogation room. By physically creating this setting and overlaying the image of the traveler in the same room as you, you really get immersed in the whole project. The experience also uses time in an interesting manner. Midway through, another officer begins to yell at you, telling you to hurry up, which creates an air of tension and begins to sway your decision-making process. As you to listen to the traveler’s stories you start connecting with them, which can make the ultimate decision you have to make about their fate all the more difficult. You still have full control, but as the humanity of the situation starts to hit you, you begin to forget that it is all a simulation and start to really think about whether to deport this traveler or not. Finally, the way the dialogue choices are handled is very elegant. Rather than overwhelm you with a list of possible options, the experience will show you at most two possible dialogue options for you to say. This way you still have options to consider without there being far too many to select from. The way the experience plays with morality, choice, and interactivity is truly unique and works to its benefit.
The way I interpreted this piece was as a sort of commentary on the immigration tensions and general xenophobia of the world today. As mentioned previously, this project is based on Malik’s real-life experience with this exact sort of situation. I think Malik made this project to educate a larger audience on the kind of treatment ordinary people go through when simply trying to transit between countries. You end up connecting with the traveler you talk to, and that really helps you understand the problem at hand. I think it is meant as a message to people that this kind of treatment is wrong, and people should not be given separate treatment just because of how they look.
I thought the work was very successful in what it was trying to do. By forcing you to take the role of the customs officer, you have to stare the problem in the face and reckon with this kind of treatment. You are not simply a bystander, you are actively engaging in the mistreatment and get to decide what to do about it at the end. Malik’s choice to create this as an interactive experience works very well, because AR is popular right now so more people will likely choose to partake. This means he can spread his message further and educate more people about why this treatment is wrong. The design of the project as a whole, from the use of choice to time management to real-life testimonies, all creates for a more uncomfortable yet more human experience. Terminal 3 is a fantastic example of what can be done with augmented reality, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the fortune to try it.