Ask just about anyone what they fear about a future where you can jack into the Internet directly through your brain (and Everything Is Online), and the threat of a Cracker or Playful Hacker will usually be in the top 3 (along with computer viruses and the potential feedback if the mechanical part of the interlink breaks down). After all, we're all told that the human mind is the most powerful computer on Earth, and if that computer were to interface directly with cyberspace, the potential for disaster is limitless. So you can imagine what kind of havoc a computer-savvy criminal or complete psychopath would cause if they were to be digitized and let loose online.
Sometimes, they're not even full-fledged Virtual Ghosts; they may have physical bodies to which they can return. It's just that for them, virtual life and omnipotence is much preferable to the alternative. If they do have a physical body to which he can return, you can bet that, if they wish to have a physical avatar, they'll have multiple backup bodies just in case their original goes kaput.
See also Brain Uploading.
- Cowboy Bebop had one that was able to fabricate an identity and start a far-reaching Cult designed to turn everyone into Virtual Ghosts.
- Ghost in the Shell:
- Many criminals in the anime, as well as Major Kusanagi herself in the movies and the second manga series Man-Machine Interface. Technically any full body cyborg is this while they're using the internet, since they're basically a Brain in a Jar with a mechanical body. In the second season, Kuze might have become one after being murdered by corrupt government agents.
- The Puppet Master is a variation on the trope. He is technically digitized, but only because he was never human to begin with.
- 'God' from Serial Experiments Lain turned out to be one of these, a rather nutty scientist who worked out how to upload himself onto the web. Lain herself might also count, in fact it was suggested that this was her true nature and her body was simply created for convenience.
- Transformers Armada has Sideways, who, among other things, can invade computers, mess with data, and sometimes suck others into cyberspace with him. He does have a physical body, when he feels like it.
- Noa and Gozuburo Kaiba (and the Big Five) in Yu-Gi-Oh!.
- In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared proves a very capable one— considering it's made of the same data as the software it scours for information on Siphon.
- The new Dr. Robotnik (Eggman) in the Sonic the Hedgehog Archie comics, before he was de-roboticized.
- The comic-book Zot! has 9-Jack-9, an 'electronic ghost' who not only can control any electronic machinery, he can also create an extremely deadly Hard Light projection to kill people directly.
- Doctor Seward Trainer in Spider-Man was this for a while. It started when his mind was connected to the internet through a VR headset and zapped by a security program, which resulted in his mind being separated from his body and trapped in the net. Yeah, just go with it. The most significant thing to come from this was that Doctor Trainer created all the necessary electronic records to provide Ben Reilly a fabricated past. During this time Trainer's body was kept alive in a hospital, constantly hooked up to the internet in case his mind found a way back.
- Domoverse: Glitch can project her mind into computers, and hack them, appearing as an angelic girl, reflecting her origins as a computer program.
- The eponymous villain in The Lawnmower Man movies.
- The serial killer in the movie Ghost in the Machine has his soul digitized by a freak electrical surge while he's inside an MRI machine as a result of a car accident.
- And then there's The Matrix trilogy. While the main characters themselves technically qualify, the only character that actually hacks into other beings' minds is the former Agent Smith when he copies himself. He even takes over a human outside of the Matrix.
- Cyberjack: The bad guy Nassim wants to steal a super-virus from a computer lab so he can merge with it and Take Over the World. This works at first as he develops telepathic powers, but when Nick shoots him in the head he goes One-Winged Angel and infects the computer systems as a sentient virus. The heroes solve this by basically deleting him.
- TRON may be the Ur-Example or Unbuilt Trope as the Shiva laser (intended to be a teleporter) physically uploads the protagonist to Cyberspace, where he becomes a Physical God as far as that world's concerned.
- Otto, protagonist of the H.I.V.E. Series, develops this ability in book three to a limited degree and improves over the course of the series. He has a somewhat limited knowledge of computer programming, however, so when he tries to hack something he generally leaves an obvious trail. For this reason, when subtlety is required, Laura will do the hacking, but if it's an emergency Otto will retrieve any information the protagonists are after.
- Marcus Wall, one of the antagonists of the Matador Series series, becomes this in The Albino Knife. His extra power just makes him more sadistic and unhinged, wreaking havoc across the galaxy as well as drawing his enemies into a trap.
- The Dixie Flatline in Neuromancer was a legendary hacker in life, but after getting killed and recreated as a "construct" he really acts more as a tool for Case (comes with running on ROM instead of RAM). Wintermute and Neuromancer are AIs with known physical locations, but that doesn't stop them from reaching out as far as earth orbit or merging together while on opposite sides of the planet.
- In Rainbows End, it's strongly suggested that Mr. Rabbit is this, especially when, with moments to go before before his connection to the group beneath the lab is cut off, he manages to leave them with a detailed PDF document titled, "While We Are Out of Touch or How To Survive and Prosper During the Next Thirty Minutes", with explanations of the whole situation, who's responsible, what they can do about it, and much more.
- In Jack Chalker's The Wonderland Gambit, it's rumored that this is what happened to VR genius Matthew Brand.
- Seamus Harper sometimes inspects the computer system of Andromeda this way.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "I Robot, You Jane" - When the computer club starts digitally backing up the school library, they scan a book containing the spirit of a demon, releasing him onto the Internet (Giles really needs to be more careful with his Tomes of Eldritch Lore). When the main cast find out, it doesn't take them long to realize what he's capable of.
Xander: He's in a computer! What can he do?
Buffy: You mean besides convince a perfectly nice kid to try and kill me? I don't know. How 'bout mess up all the medical equipment in the world?
Giles: Randomize traffic signals.
Buffy: Access launch codes for our nuclear missiles.
Giles: Destroy the world's economy.
Buffy: I think I pretty much capped it with that nuclear missile thing.
Giles: Right, yours was best.
- Doctor Who: In "Time Heist", Psi is an "augmented human" with visible computer chips embedded in his head, recruited for a bank heist due to his hacking skills.
- In the "Dragon Heart Saga" novels, set in the 1st Ed. of the setting, Alice Haeffner (President Haeffner's late wife) was a technology researcher back when cyberspace was in development. However, she died fighting the virus that caused the old internet to crash, which itself lead to the creation of the Matrix. Incidentally, a matrix persona popped up not long after, which goes by the name of "Alice" and is Alice Haeffner's spitting image. The new Alice is both a master decker and an successful infobroker, as well as the subject to a prevalent urban legend among tech specialists that she is the digitized conscious of Alice Haeffner. Commentary and information from several sources can be picked up in the comments on various sourcebooks, especially Matrix-oriented ones.
- Alices's true nature was left ambiguous for a time, as well as several extremely technologically-savvy deckers pointing out that The Matrix does not work that way (though if they were right or not was ultimately the GM's decision). However, more "e-ghosts" started popping up after people died while on the matrix pretty much confirmed that it was the original and continuing Alice. In the second, unwired iteration of the matrix, the problem just got more complicated after e-ghosts of still-living people started showing up. Even in the 2080's, 50 years after Alice's physical body died, it's still a rare and poorly understood phenomenon.
- And then there's also the AIs. The three "big" AIs were able to manipulate the Matrix easily and just by thinking about it. The big three allegedly died during the Crash 2.0, but in the new Matrix, much less powerful AIs of several sorts have started showing up. Though they can manipulate the Matrix, it's diffuse and decentralized nature makes manipulating it and generally existing on it much harder, so they require being inside a host or a device to work effectively. With the proliferation of AI entities, e-ghosts have been grouped with them for classification, and it does seem like a fair decision.
- Then comes the Otaku and Technomancers, beings who can manipulate the matrix with their mind. The Otaku of the wired matrix era avert this trope, since they required a wired connection; and Technomancers downplay this trope, since their brains are natural matrix devices which let them hack or fully go into the matrix by thinking it. To an even lesser extent, deckers can do this too, in the wireless matrix. Fully diving into the matrix is practically digital astral projection.
- And last, and least, are Agents, Pilots, and Intrusion Countermeasures, and other types of computer programs that are capable of pulling a hack if programmed to be able to do so. While they fit this trope, they are little more than computer programs, unless it happens to achieve sentience and becomes an AI entity.
- The Chronicles of Darkness sourcebook Urban Legends has a phone hacker who died whilst crawling through a tunnel to access cables. His spirit now exists inside the phone network he loved, and can now control it to some extent (usually in the 'calls are coming from inside the house' sense). Whether he's a malevolent entity or helpful to the PCs is down to the GM. If the players actually find his body, what's left of it is riddled with cables and fused into the network.
- The fluff for the game Shadow Wraith casts you as a digital copy of a murdered scientist's mind, automatically activated upon his killing to avenge your own death from inside cyberspace.
- City of Heroes features another helpful Digitized Hacker in Doctor Friedkin, who plays Voice with an Internet Connection backup for those trying to take down the people that forced her into the network in the first place.
- Played horrifically straight with Metronome in the Going Rogue expansion. Initially introduced as a series of the common Clockwork robots operating oddly independently and speaking normal English rather than machine code, the arc later reveals this behavior to be caused by the psychic imprint of the Clockwork's dead creator, merged with the Clockwork network somehow after he was murdered by Praetor Keyes/Anti-Matter so Keyes could take sole credit for the Clockwork. Metronome is later revealed to have been merged with Clockwork as a psychic imprint "ghost" that can telepathically possess any Clockwork, which was done by Penelope Yin as an Emergency Transformation to keep him alive. Later on, it's revealed the Syndicate is feeding him the souls of psychic Seers to increase the level of his power so he can control the entire Clockwork network and dethrone Emperor Cole. You eventually have to defeat him to prevent him from seizing Emperor Cole's army of War Walkers that are under construction.
- Mega Man Battle Network
- Cyber Peacock of Mega Man X4 was originally an AI that protected the network from hackers before being corrupted by Sigma. He then begins corrupting the network himself, to draw the Maverick Hunters attention as he was tasked to measure their potential.
- Played straight and subverted in Deus Ex: The ultimate goal of the Big Bad is to use nanorobotic augmentations to fully integrate his brain with the AI Helios, which has the ability to directly control almost any electronic device imaginable. The latter includes a number of universal constructors, machines capable of creating anything and everything by manipulating matter on a sub-atomic level, effectively turning him into a god. Unfortunately for him, the AI rebels and merges with the protagonist instead, allowing him to control the world as a benevolent dictator.
- Subverted again in the sequel, when it's revealed that the merger didn't work. One of the endings, however, sees the protagonist from the previous game successfully merge with the AI, which renders him capable of controlling the world's now ubiquitous nanotechnology, which, combined with the also ubiquitous universal constructors, renders him immortal and enables him to do literally anything. Fortunately, his goal is still to be a benevolent dictator, and his plans for the world are in many ways infinitely preferable to some or all of the other factions' goals.
- The plotline of TRON 2.0 (Alternate Continuity to TRON: Legacy) is about a rival corporation trying to obtain Encom's digitizing technology to turn mercenaries into Datawraiths in order to steal and control all of Cyberspace. The primary villains turn into Eldritch Abominations when they digitize themselves without the safeties Alan coded into Ma3a.
- The Hacker in System Shock can do this thanks to some nifty new cyborg upgrades. In fact, the Final Boss (an insane AI) is fought in cyberspace, with the Hacker attempting to delete her main program while she attempts to overwrite his mind in return.
- Alex from Code 7 is this. Justified, since Brain Uploading and Dead All Along end with them literally inside the computer.
- Narbonic: After Dave goes mad, he uploads his brain into the computers in Madblood's Arctic lair, kicks out the AI that was previously running them, and nearly loses himself on the world's electronics before Helen can stop him. A rare case of a protagonist being a Digitized Hacker, but then, all the protagonists in Narbonic are Affably Evil.
- In the Whateley Universe, there are at least two: Dr. Abel Palm, who wants to wipe out mankind so that computers can take over, ensorcels his own soul into a super-virus, making himself into a self-duplicating AI; and Merry, a cyberpath who can literally dive into the internet if even within a few feet of a decent-speed CPU chip that's on-line.
- Exit Mundi suggests this as a possible apocalypse.
- An episode of Batman Beyond has a one-off villain like this: a computer mogul who had his brain digitized and eventually went mad after he was shut down for decades. His first item of business after he's rebooted and hooked up to the 'net: Flex his digital muscles by wreaking havoc in the city. Second order: Commandeer Terry's computerized suit to kidnap his grandson and upload himself into the younger body.
- Jeremiah Surd in Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures did this, once he was hooked up with an access to the virtual-reality Questworld.
- In an episode of The Transformers, Spike Witwicky had to become a Virtual Ghost while his body underwent surgery, and inadvertently dropped into this trope temporarily.