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Just an illusion? Between simulation, emulation, and hyper-realism

“AN-ICON. Studies in Environmental Images”, Online Open Access Journal

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Published on Wednesday, June 30, 2021


Recent technologies (like virtual and augmented reality) have given new impulse to a type of images that negate themselves as such and that can therefore be named “an-icons”. Traditional images are grounded in a material medium; they are separated from their context by framing devices; and they refer to something in the real world. By contrast, an-icons conceal their mediateness, ideally getting rid of any framing devices, and aim at constituting autonomous quasi-real worlds. The result is a radical “environmentalization” of images that ask to be inhabited and experienced more than viewed and observed. “AN-ICON. Studies in Environmental Images” is an online open access journal that investigates an-icons according to theoretical, historical, and practical perspectives.    



Recent years have witnessed increasing debate on the notion of illusion in the contemporary mediascape and on its role within digital environments, in particular with respect to virtual-, augmented-, and mixed-reality tech- nologies. Immersive environments can elicit in the user an intense feeling of being incorporated into quasi-real worlds. Consequently, and despite being traditionally given a negative value, the word “illusion” is more and more accorded a positive meaning as a key aspect of the phenomenon of immersion; as such, it is regarded as an important goal to be pursued by the creators of hyper-realistic and virtual environments.

However, the concept of illusion is in itself plagued by ambiguities and even contradictions, and therefore in need of clarification. Does it imply an unconscious de- ception accomplished through a false perception, or is it rather a lusory attitude adopted in a peculiar kind of make-believe relation? What is the difference between illusion, deception, and hallucination? How does illusion turn into deception? How does deception become illu- sion?

In simulated virtual environments, people experience a strong feeling of presence (place illusion) and react to what they perceive as if it were real (plausibility illusion) (Slater 2009; Hofer et al. 2020). At the same time, they remain perfectly aware that they are not “really” there, and that the events are not “actually” occurring. How is such conflict between knowing and perceiving to be ex- plained, and is it to be regarded as a new form of aes- thetic illusion (Koblížek 2017)?

Moreover, virtual reality has the power to make the us- ers feel as if they own and control a body (body-owner- ship illusion) that can look very different from their bio- logical one. This can result into a transformation of self- representation, which in turn may cause a change in our attitudes towards ourselves or towards other people, thus helping reduce implicit racial and gender bias or mitigate health problems and mental disorders (Peck et al. 2013; Scarpina et al. 2019). Yet, what are the limits of virtual reality and of the possibilities it offers to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, promoting virtuous and socially adaptive processes of emulation? How to debunk the rhetoric (which has an ethic, social, and po- litical meaning) behind the celebration of virtual reality as “the ultimate empathy machine” (Milk 2015)?

Furthermore, “environmental” images often imply a var- iable degree of interaction with the observers; but is in- teractivity necessary to elicit illusion?

Does the multisensory quality of the interaction affect the overall illusion effect? Given that immersive virtual environments are frequently inhabited by the users’ proxies, do avatars in their vast phenomenology en- hance or rather diminish the degree of illusion? What is the relation between illusion and the “style” of the im- age? More specifically, is hyper-realism a necessary el- ement of illusion or, as Gordon Calleja (2011) maintains, only one viable alternative among many others? What about the so-called “immersive fallacy” and the idea that, when plunged into digital environments, the user’s mind accepts what it perceives as reality (Salen & Zimmer- man 2003)?

Main topics

In line with the research directions listed above, and in- stead of focussing on more traditional topics like optical illusions, this issue encourages contributions specifically addressing the following topics:

  • The relation between traditional and contemporary accounts of illusion;
  • The distinction between illusion, deception, and hallucination;
  • Illusion in the arts and media: painting, sculpture, theatre, cinema and pre-cinematic devices (panoramas, phantasmagorias, cinerama, circarama, totalrama…), videogames and other digital media;
  • The notion of illusion as related to virtual, augment, and mixed-reality technologies;
  • The different kinds of illusion (place illusion, plausibility illusion, body illusion) in immersive virtual environments;
  • The role of illusion in generating an immersive effect and, vice versa, the role of immersion in producing illusion;
  • Strategies to elicit (full) body ownership illusion within virtual environments;
  • How illusion transforms our bodily-self, and how this reverberates on the possibility of overcoming social, racial, and gender biases;
  • The role of (real-time) interaction and sensory-motor synchrony in immersive environments;
  • The relevance of the classical concepts of Edmund Husserl’s contradiction (Widerstreit) and Richard Woll- heim’s twofoldness in the very specific research field of virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality technologies.

Enquiries For enquiries, please send an email to: an-icon-journal@unimi.it Download the full text of the Call for Papers here.

Submission guidelides

Full articles should be submitted by registering on AN-ICON Studies in Environmental Images. Please find the submission guidelines and style sheet here: https://riviste.unimi.it/index.php/anicon/about/submissi ons.

Deadline for full articles 15 November 2021

Articles must be original contributions (that have not already or simoultaneously been submitted to other Journals). All submissions are subject to double blind peer-review and, if accepted, authors may be required to make revisions, based on feedback from the reviewers.

In case of multiple authors, the author who is submitting the manuscript will be considered as corresponding author. 

Articles must be written in English. 

Characters/word count: 24.000-30.000 characters (spaces included), or 3.500-5.000 words. 

Abstract: 150-200 words.

5 keywords 

Accepted file formats: Microsoft Word, or RTF document.


  • Pietro Conte
  • Lambert Wiesing


Calleja, G., In-Game. From immersion to incorporation (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 2011).

Hofer M., Hartmann T., Eden A., Ratan R. & Hahn L., “The role of plausibility in the experience of spatial presence in virtual environments,” Front. Virtual Real. 1:2 (2020). doi: 10.3389/frvir.2020.00002

Koblížek T. (ed.), The aesthetic illusion in literature and the arts (London: Bloomsbury, 2017). Milk, Chris, “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine,” TED Talk (2015).

Peck T.C., Seinfeld S., Aglioti S.M. & Slater M., “Putting yourself in the skin of a black avatar reduces implicit racial bias,” Conscious Cogn. 22:3 (2013):779-87. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2013.04.016. Epub 2013 May 28. PMID: 23727712.

Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E., Rules of play: Game design fundamentals (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 2003).

Scarpina F., Serino S., Keizer A., Chirico A., Scacchi M., Castelnuovo G., Mauro A. & Riva G., “The effect of a virtual-reality full-body illusion on body representation in obesity,” J Clin Med. 8:9 (2019), 1330. doi: 10.3390/jcm8091330

Slater, M., “Place illusion and plausibility can lead to realistic behaviour in immersive virtual environments,” Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 364:1535 (2009): 3549-3557.


  • Monday, November 15, 2021

Attached files


  • illusion, hallucination, virtual reality, dream, hyperrealism, realism, trompe-l'oeil,


  • ERC Project An-Icon
    courriel : an-icon [at] unimi [dot] it

Information source

  • ERC Project An-Icon
    courriel : an-icon [at] unimi [dot] it


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Just an illusion? Between simulation, emulation, and hyper-realism », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, https://calenda.org/892240

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