As opposed to the malicious Cracker who uses his computer skills for profit and mayhem, the Playful Hacker normally wants nothing more than to explore new territory on the Net and learn new things. Sometimes, he plays harmless pranks which can cause clueless authority figures to confuse him with his dark counterpart. Even when his actions are not strictly legal, though, his intentions and presence are almost always benign—even heroic. This is what "hacker" used to mean, before mass media mutated it.
When a Playful Hacker and a Cracker collide on the Net, it's always the Playful Hacker whom authorities pursue first, a plot complication which puts additional pressure on the Playful Hacker to track down the Cracker, the true culprit. When the final face-off comes, though, it's going to be the Playful Hacker versus the The Cracker at high noon at the 0K Corral with virtual six-guns.
The Playful Hacker usually owns a Magical Computer, which allows him or her to do all manner of things impossible to normal computers and users, especially when engaging in Rapid-Fire Typing. (See Hollywood Hacking.)
- Nene Romanova from both Bubblegum Crisis and Bubblegum Crisis: 2040 is a very skilled hacker in a cyberpunk universe, and an electronics warfare specialist within the Knight Sabers.
- Ed from Cowboy Bebop, currently pictured above. Ed creates animal-VR viruses in order to discover information about bounties for the Bebop crew that is being kept secret from the general public. Ed's child-like behavior means she never seems to consider trying to give them money more directly.
- Matt Jeevas from Death Note is often depicted as this in the fandom due to his Chaotic Neutral hacking in the main series.
- Rebecca Hawkins from Yu-Gi-Oh!. Seto Kaiba is one as well but could fall more under The Cracker (he certainly never does this for fun), but, technically, the few times we see him hacking, he's helping out the good guys. His younger brother Mokuba is this as well.
- Chisame from Mahou Sensei Negima! falls under this when she's not being the Meta Girl. Eventually, her hacking skills literally become magical when she gains magical girl powers.
- Aoi Kyougoku from Imadoki!, especially with the elevator.
- Christina Sierra from Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and Hilde Schbeiker from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing were hinted to be these. Though Christina isn't seen doing lots of hacking, Hilde does get some info for Duo which he uses to find Quatre and contact him, and later she sneaks into a battleship and gets vital info for the Wing Boys, as the cost of bing severely injured and barely surviving.
- Takashi Katori and Olivia Lawrence, the main characters of Video Warrior Laserion. In fact, Takashi becomes Laserion's pilot because he got caught snooping and hacking around. (Their relationship is similar to WarGames, below.)
- Helba from .hack. She is considered a criminal due to the fact that hacking is a capital crime after Pluto's kiss, but does it entirely for fun and to protect the online game The World.
- Russia of Axis Powers Hetalia is mentioned in the 2010 Bloodbath and the second Hetalia Fantasia CD as "tinkering" with his computer. He says that one of his hobbies is "tweaking" technology, and at one point hacks Finland's audio and cell devices to get them to go off constantly in an attempt at forcing him to spend time with him. He describes Estonia as his rival tweaker, and at one point, Estonia accuses Russia of hacking his blog and turning it into a fansite for himself. He didn't...and was quite upset at Estonia for thinking so.
- Ran Musen the genius programmer from R-15.
- Lynn Lambretta in Bodacious Space Pirates. She was arrested for it when she was in middle school. In high school, she uses her leet skills to foil a pirate attack.
- Kazari Uiharu in A Certain Scientific Railgun. In the hacker underground, she goes by the pseudonym "Goalkeeper", and is highly respected.
- Kululu from Sgt. Frog. He could drain all information from the internet and single-handedly take over earth, but he seems more interested in causing mischief and making softcore porn.
- Lupin III:
- During Lupin III: Dead or Alive, Lupin is able to hack into highly secret government files. As an international thief, he is easily mistaken for The Cracker, however, he doesn't use his computer skills to steal or manipulate people's identity. Lupin's computer skills are used to discover information only.
- Lupin III Part 5 has Ami, a teenage hacker who could rule the internet with her skillz (sic), but is content to use it to find private places on her school campus and fool criminals with internet filters.
- Macross Plus has Yang Neumann, who normally is a mecha engineer but pulls double duty as this in his free time. He's even seen hacking into Sharon Apple's system at some point and unintentionally causes her to see Isamu, which will cause her to notice him...
- Besides being an Idol Singer, Reina Prowler of Macross Delta serves as this for Walkure; in fact, her trying to hack into its parent organization Chaos was what got her recruited in the first place.
- Marvel UK introduced Adam Reynolds for one of their Transformers Generation 1 annuals. He was attempting to find out how much money was in a friend's bank account to win a bet, but managed to accidentally hack into the Decepticons' data files. Which is the equivalent of walking to the bank and ending up in the secret military lab in the middle of the ocean.
- An issue of Spider-Man Family had a couple of kids looking for the next big game stumble into one of Stark Industries' files. What they thought was an awesome game turned out to be a program devised by Howard Stark dating back to World War II to protect America from the Nazis. Both Spidey and Iron Man had to destroy the robots that were activated and Tony (as Iron Man) made sure the boys knew they were in trouble.
- In Prez, the recurring characters include a team of anonymous hackers who play a role in the unlikely chain of events that results in Beth Ross being elected president, and later uncover and foil an assassination attempt while challenging each other to hack into various bits of the Capitol's IT architecture.
- Robin: Tim Drake is one and before completing his training this was the only way he was allowed to aid Batman, early in his carer as Robin Dick points it out as one of the things Tim is better at than him.
- Red Robin: Tim Drake is the title character and Lonnie Machin ends up reduced to his Voice with an Internet Connection after being kidnapped and poisoned into paralysis.
- After Barbara Gordon upped her game and became Oracle she turned into the most powerful heroic hacker in the 'verse due to her connections, Photographic Memory, and intelligence.
- Dana's hacker abilities help out the Lab Rats on several occasions and eventually it seems she was able to disable her transponder implant which helps her outlast the rest of the group but does not save her.
- The Babylon 5 fanfic The Dilgar War has Francis O'Leary: in his first scene he boasts about his ability to penetrate protected websites, and tries to impress a girl by penetrating the site of EarthForce and showing her the photography of a female officer. Who just happened to be the girl he was trying to impress. Next scene, he joins the Earth Intelligence Agency to avoid serving prison time.
- Flynn from TRON. His son Sam in TRON Legacy is just as computer savvy as his dad, using his skills to annually crack Encom and prank them.
- David Lightman from WarGames, is a Playful Hacker whose attempts to preview games nearly causes a global nuclear war.
- The entire plot of the movie Hackers—while the protagonists are not wholly benign, they are put in contrast with an extremely evil villain who makes them seem positively helpful in comparison.
- Attila in Dante 01, who repeatedly teases the head of the prison when he hacks into his computer.
- Aram Fingal (played by Raul Julia) in the Made-for-TV Movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, at least initially. He kicks off the film's plot by spending his work hours "scrolling up cinemas" at the office, but once his consciousness is placed in the HX368 supercomputer (long story) his shenanigans end up creating severe weather disasters all over the world, causing billions in property damage to the Evil Corporation that he works for.
- Stanley Jobson in Swordfish. Arguably Deconstructed—he's got the requisite mad skillz and moral compass, but this just means The Government is that much more smug when they catch up with him and punish him for his actions: destroying the FBI Carnivore program was actually praised by enough of the public to force them to parole him away from computers instead of giving him a prison sentence. But, when his alcoholic wife divorces him due to him losing his job (because they won't let him use computers), they have a judge award her with their daughter even after she marries the porn king she works for. The FBI even brags about how his daughter will end up "a fluffer in her new daddy's videos" as punishment for him screwing up their ability to read every American's email.
- Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. The guy effortlessly hacks a live senate broadcast and several military satellites just to prove a point. He also has a tendency to hack other people's sound systems to play appropriate music for his dramatic entrances.
- This drives the plot of Who Am I, where Ben from a benign hacker group hands sensitive data to The Cracker MRX which results in an informer being killed, making Ben and his group prime suspects.
- Dennis Nedry from Jurassic Park. He rigged his workstation so that it would lock itself in an infinite loop if anyone tried to access anything on it without "saying the magic word."
Computer Nedry: Ah ah ah... You didn't say the magic word.
Arnold: PLEASE! God damn it! I hate this hacker crap!
- Gwendolen from The Last Dragon Chronicles easily fits this trope. Made it all the more awesome because she's an "inanimate" dragon figurine.
- Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother centers around a group of Playful Hackers as they are caught and detained under suspicion of a terrorist attack. Interestingly, The Cracker isn't even represented in the book—it's the Playful Hacker versus the evil Homeland Security.
- Net in Feliks, Net & Nika is a genius hacker and amazing programmer.
- Replace 'hacker' with 'cracker' and you have the three guys who make up "The Smoking Gnu" in Going Postal. This being the Discworld, they hack the semaphore-driven "clacks" network, which is a telecommunications system, but without the electricity.
- As of The Science of Discworld II, Hex has also joined the Playful Hacker ranks, as it's hooked up to the semaphore network, has cracked their operations codes, and can slip messages onto the network for free, passing them off as internal signalling. So far as we know, it's only done this to save the UU faculty the expense of sending c-mail messages. Ridcully's reaction to learning this is to ask some serious questions, starting with "Could anyone find out we're doing this?"
- Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius Trilogy:
- Cadel Darkkon functions as this. Slightly subverted, as in the first book Cadel was closer to a cracker, given his initially amoral nature—until he met one of the victims of his destructive schemes.
- Most of the members of Genius Squad are playful hackers, though Hamish Primrose would be the best example.
- "Smokin'" Jay Gridley from Tom Clancy's Net Force.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- One of the Hats worn by Bothans is that of the hacker (the others are vicious-backstabbing-politician and spy). The Bothan pilot who makes it into Wraith Squadron is a bit malicious but more or less Playful.
- Ghent, from The Thrawn Trilogy and later the Hand of Thrawn duology, is one of these. He is very good at hacking and does so for the sheer pleasure of it. He also has blue hair.
- Bobby Newmark in the Sprawl Trilogy.
- Wyatt Gillette from Jeffery Deaver's The Blue Nowhere.
- Ravirn. In a world where computer hacking skills and magic have combined, Ravirn definitely fits this trope.
- Snow Crash. Although his business card boasts of his badass swordsmanship and pizza-delivery skills, Hiro Protagonist's skills as a hacker actually serve him better in the story than his skills with a katana.
- Bob Salmon in the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel Blue Box by Kate Orman, who uses his skills to help the Sixth Doctor and Peri take down cracker Sarah Swan.
- Ender in Ender's Game, who cracks into the desk system in the Battle School and figures out how to send messages under other student's names while preventing other students from using his name. This is only used for pranks, of course, as Ender is only six years old at the time. And the computer system is deliberately set up to allow and encourage this sort of competition/play/hacking.
- In Vernor Vinge's cult-classic novella, "True Names", most of the members of The Cabal fall under both this and The Cracker. They're all out to have fun, and to gain bragging rights, but they're all also criminals. Of course, some of them are more criminal than others, so we do eventually get the classic Playful Hacker vs The Cracker showdown.
- Karma of The Girl from the Miracles District can break in anywhere thanks to her magical ability to manipulate numbers. She likes to have her fun, too - she once broke into secure bank accounts of a leader of an order of assassins, replaced all the values with 6,66 in whatever currency they were in, and then reset everything back to normal after a day just to show that she could.
- Fate/strange fake has Flat Escardos, an Idiot Savant who cheerfully goes about the Holy Grail War in hopes of making friends with every Servant. He's also an astonishingly talented magus who can rewrite meticulously laid defensive wards in four seconds simply by touching a building and flooding it with his magical energy.
- Directly inspired by WarGames, Richie Adler from the short-lived series Whiz Kids. Richie even acknowledges some similarities but says that he, as opposed to Lightman, is a genius. But then, his computer RALF is also a Magical Computer.
- Adam from Doctor Who was a Deconstruction of this character type. His playfulness and extreme intelligence made Rose find him charming and appealing, but as time went on it became apparent his lack of a distinction between a harmless prank and something dangerous and threatening; his worrying ambition; his cowardice; and his dangerous impulses all rather obscured his better traits. He ends up back home with a hole drilled into his forehead which opens whenever anyone snaps their fingers, denied the chance to explore the universe with the Doctor.
- Mac on Veronica Mars: a Playful Hacker with the tendency toward being a bit of a Cracker. She's helpful to Veronica in solving cases, but as Veronica herself operates outside the law for profit, Mac does the same.
- Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds was this until her ex-boyfriend, a straight out Cracker, got her in trouble with the law. She hacked the government just to prove that it could be done, but he took files and leaked the data. She was given the choice to work for the FBI or get jail time.
- Frohike and Langley of The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen would seem to qualify. Byers, for the most part, is their Straight Man.
- Though General Hospital's Spinelli is portrayed as this by friends, he's a lot closer to the Cracker archetype.
- Alec Hardison falls under this trope.
- His nemesis Chaos is the villainous variant who's willing to kill to get what he wants.
- Freddie tries to be this in the "iRue the Day" episode of iCarly to counter Cracker Nevel without success.
- Kermit in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
- Caleb from Pretty Little Liars, one of the resident Troubled, but Cute bad boys of Rosewood, is a kindhearted hacker with a Dark and Troubled Past of being The Cracker.
- Charlie Bradbury from Supernatural is one who likes to divert funds from the Republican Party to animal rights groups in her spare time at work. Until she learns what's really going on at Richard Roman Enterprises when she's asked to hack Frank Deveraux's hard drive and has to run and take a new identity—apparently not for the first time.
- Mr. Robot: While Elliot isn't "playful," his interest in hacking is benevolent. He wants to help people and punish wrongdoers.
- Near the end of Oliver's Travels the heroes are put in touch with one who helps them hack into the villain's computer system and get evidence of his wrongdoing.
- Freddie from Behind The Veil fits pretty well, despite being born a wolf. Mike Hoffman also has shades of this.
- Amy from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, after she's turned into data which can freely roam the Internet. While Finn wants her to hack through firewalls as part of his various plans, Amy herself just does it because she wants to learn and be helpful.
- The Computer Phreak secret society in Paranoia.
- The Shaper faction in Android: Netrunner is comprised of these guys.
- Miniatures game Infinity features hacking as a core mechanic and has several characters that fit the trope: Valerya Gromoz and Isobel McGregor are both young women who became known for their hacking skills while Uhahu and Mary Problems are child-like expert hackers that put the former two too shame with both their skills and bratty attitudes.
- Metal Gear:
- B.B. from Metal Gear Ac!d 2. Instead of being childlike, though, he was—literally—a child (age negotiable, but still in Elementary School). He played comic relief throughout the game, culminating in him copying Psychic Powers from a boss and hypnotizing the President of the United States—totally ridiculous, but it worked because it was funny.
- One of Otacon's talents in Metal Gear Solid. He clearly takes great pleasure in hacking into his boss's files during the third act, and cheerfully remarks that the hacker label describes him "pretty well". In fact, that's why the FBI fired him.
- In Deus Ex, Silhouette's claim to fame is hacking a Superbowl broadcast and inserting anti-UN propaganda.
- Hammer from Xenosaga is said to have top-notch hacking skills, so much so that he's been head hunted by the top corporations of that 'Verse. The database states that in his youth, he hacked into a criminal database, and that his current employers, the Kukai Foundation, protected him from them.
- The "hacker" from the original System Shock. The story gets kicked off when he gets caught.
- Mass Effect:
- The way Kasumi Goto meets Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 is by hacking an advertisement machine to talk to him/her.
Commander Shepard, enter the password and receive a free gift.
Having trouble with Collectors? Try Kasumi's credit agency.
We have the best women for you. Perhaps something cute, petite, and Japanese would be to your liking.
Just enter the password for a fabulous prize worth billions of credits.
Seriously, how many times can you walk past without investigating?
- Between the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, Cerberus attempts to regain control of the Normandy after Shepard cuts off ties with them. Unshackled EDI's response? Spamming the Cerberus hackers with seven zettabytesnote of porn...from Joker's Porn Stash.
- The crew of the Normandy is joined in Mass Effect 3 by Samantha Traynor, who among other things enjoys strategy games and manages to impress EDI with her ability to sift through data to track a Cerberus shuttle.
- The way Kasumi Goto meets Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 is by hacking an advertisement machine to talk to him/her.
- Shinji Naruse, a childish and Tsundere high school student in Lux-Pain is a gifted hacker who manages to break into the files of the main character's secret organization... because he can. He ends up facing the Cool and Unusual Punishment of having doctored (and dirty) photos of him posted on the internet by said organization.
- Yukabacera from Iji is apparently one, according to his hidden character pages on Daniel Remar's official site. He'll hack one of the station terminals in the room just to code a video game for other people's enjoyment. (This game can actually be played in Sector 6, the sector where Yukabacera is hiding) He apparently tries cracking his own logbook in his spare time, and is responsible for the Scrambler, which was your standard-issue Universal Translator before he got his hands on it.
- TRON 2.0: Jet Bradley is as bad as his Honorary Uncle (see the film section). His father is definitely not thrilled.
- You in Uplink, if you so choose. Hack someone's academic record and give him nonsense degrees! Change their status from "Single" to "Married" or even to "Deceased" for no particular reason. Hack into the bank and steal exactly one credit just because you can. As well as the player in the Spiritual Successor Hacknet.
- Bentley of the Sly Cooper series is the team's tech expert and can hack practically any computer they need him to. He's also technically The Cracker as he's part of a gang of thieves, albeit a largely heroic gang.
- Isis and probably Alice from Hack 'N' Slash have the attitude and means down, except they're hacking the fabric of reality instead of just computers.
- The Data Angels of Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri are an entire country of these, headed by Sinder Roze, a cybercriminal who got aboard the Unity by opting to work as the ship's network admin as part of her community service. The Data Angels are concerned greatly about the freedom of the individual and the freedom of information, which often puts them into conflict with the collectivist Human Hive and the fanatical Lord's Believers. The Data Angels have access to Probes which are not only more effective than those of other factions, but much cheaper as well, and they gain any technology for free when it is discovered by three other factions. Unfortunately, they can't use the Power value in social engineering, giving them fewer options for building a strong military, and they have a much harder time keeping order in their cities and generally working as a group - in a nation of individualistic hackers, everyone wants to have a voice, and nobody wants to be just another soldier in someone else's army.
- Sombra from Overwatch blurs the line quite a bit in deciding whether or not she's a Playful Hacker or a Cracker. On one hand, her motives seem just, which is to know who really runs the world, and she has an extremely prevalent mischievous streak, but she works with the terrorist organization Talon to find this info, and is also quite keen on "making friends" to obtain more.
Moira: Started any wars lately?
Sombra: (cheerily) I'll have to check my schedule.
- Seven from Mystic Messenger is a hacker who works for a secret intelligence agency and also one of the player's potential love interests.
- Persona 5 has Futaba Sakura, the Phantom Thieves' mischievous tech genius, who's capable of hacking anything from her friend's smartphone to all of Japan's airwaves.
- Anonymous from BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm is trying to learn how to hack so hell have another tool in his arsenal to play tricks on people. Later we meet Til, a playful Hackette who mainly uses her abilities to keep his in check.
- TOME: The White-Hat Hacker.
- Halo: Many Smart AI are capable of doing this when plugged into a network. Cortana in particular was designed with the intent of infiltrating any system, even Covenant-designed and controlled ones, and taking them over. She's even subverted control from Forerunner systems. The novels describe her as having every single hacking protocol that ONI could fit inside of her at the time of her creation, plus quite a few she made herself (and would often amuse herself by testing said security systems to see how fast she could break through).
- Jack from Gunnerkrigg Court has made a hobby of hacking his dorm's security system so he can sneak out and explore the Court after-hours.
- Yuri from Spacetrawler. She can open or lock any door on the ship, and she's already read a number of files that the captain doesn't want anyone to see.
- Vauxhall from A Tale of Fiction fits the bill. He seems to know more about the tyrannical DUF than almost anybody else from his hacking activities and works against them, but otherwise is a harmless and funny (if porn-addicted) guy.
- Sollux Captor and Alpha Roxy Lalonde from Homestuck. Sollux is probably a better example of the trope—he once managed to initiate contact from Terezi to Doc Scratch. Who doesn't have an account on the chat client. And uses a TYPEWRITER. AND LIVES ON A MOON.
- The aptly named Hacky from Sidekicks has a superpower that allows him to do so. Although he denies it.
- Hachuling from Tower of God, a cheerful fellow who can take over your Lighthouse like it's nothing.
- Occasionally in Code Lyoko, when Jérémie is testing a new program. However, he normally uses the Supercomputer to escape from sticky situations. For example, when the school staff tries to find out about William's disappearance and Jérémie uses his voice synthesizer.
- Mouse from ReBoot. Even weirder when you consider she actually lives inside a computer. One could guess she's some sort of hacking software (just like how Bob is essentially a computer security suite).
- Odie in Class of the Titans, is this at times. Especially in "Trojan Horse" where he hacks the city's main frame for his own amusement, causing the traffic lights to flash like a disco and Video Game/Pac-Man to appear on a ATM.
- Once in Robot Chicken, the nerd accidentally nuked Canada while looking for cheat codes. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay and waterboarded until he told them where Mordor was.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: While he's more of a Technopath, Doc Hartford never lacks for a sense of humor, and is more likely to try to sweet-talk or trick an AI than overpower it.
- Randy Hernandez in Godzilla: The Series, often getting into restricted networks.
- Robin in Young Justice.
"I hacked the motion sensors."
- Blkmrkt, the Asian and Nerdy 11-year-old from Major Lazer.
- A popular April Fool's Day joke on websites is to alter the front page to make it look like the site has fallen victim to internet vandals. Fark is (apparently) particularly vulnerable to guinea pigs, or, as they call themselves, TEH PIGZ.
- Though it did not involve computers, the Max Headroom broadcast hijacker still applies. The incident occurred in 1987 when a guy dressed like Max Headroom was able to get into the signals of WGN and PBS and broadcast his surreal video.
- A hacker called NeoN exposed a Russian company's propagation of the fake antivirus program MS Antivirus and posted their earnings from the fraudulent program. The company's name? Bakasoftware.
- Lulz Security/Antisec members consider themselves to be these, as evidenced by their snarky, meme-laden press releases.
- The NSA has their own department of white hat hackers (better known as "penetration testers", since certain less technically-literate management types tend to panic at the word "hacker") that constantly test their own systems. And do some other stuff.
- In fact, many tech-based industries (which is most industries nowadays) employ penetration testers, also called "ethical hackers", and often independent hackers can tip companies off about security vulnerabilities as well.
- M.I.T. has a long tradition of "hacks" dating back long before computers were available, with their own website dedicated to tracking them, as well as at least five books—one of which is published by the university's museum press.