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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.
Anime & Manga
- Noa and Gozuburo Kaiba (and the Big Five) in Yu-Gi-Oh!.
- Many criminals in the Ghost in the Shell anime, as well as Major herself in the movies.
- 'God' from Serial Experiments Lain turned out to be one of these, a rather nutty scientist who worked out how to download 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.
- Cowboy Bebop had one that was able to fabricate an identity and start a far-reaching Cult designed to turn everyone into Virtual Ghosts.
- 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.
- 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 Solid Hologram to kill people directly.
- 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 title villain in the Lawnmower Man movies.
- The serial killer in the movie Ghost in the Machine.
- And then there's this little known movie trilogy called The Matrix. 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.
- 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 A Is 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.
Live Action TV
- 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."
- Seamus Harper sometimes inspects the computer system of Andromeda this way.
- A decker (computer hacker) becoming a "ghost in the machine" is a recurring urban legend among the deckers of the Shadowrun setting; however, whenever the subject comes up, there's always a few extremely technologically-savvy deckers around to point out that The Matrix does not work that way.
- And there's Deus, a mean-spirited AI that wreaks havoc upon the matrix in just that manner.
- After the Crash 2.0, it appears that Captain Chaos was uploaded to the Matrix in just that fashion
- In the "Dragon Heart Saga" trilogy set in the Shadowrun setting, Alice (can't recall if she assumed that name to copy the Carroll character) was a researcher back when cyberspace was in development: she ended up this way in a not-quite-accident arranged by a coworker.
- And there's Deus, a mean-spirited AI that wreaks havoc upon the matrix in just that manner.
- 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
- 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 Eldrich Abominations when they digitize themselves without the safeties Alan coded into Ma3a.
- Narbonic: After Dave goes mad, he downloads 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.
- Jeremiah Surd in The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest did this, once he was hooked up with an access to the virtual-reality Questworld.
- In an episode of Transformers, Spike Witwicky had to become a Virtual Ghost while his body underwent surgery, and inadvertently dropped into this trope temporarily.
- 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 download himself into the younger body.