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 to do all manner of things impossible to normal computers and users, especially when engaging in Rapid-Fire Typing. (See Hollywood Hacking.)
Anime and Manga
- Ed from Cowboy Bebop.
- Michael from Witch Hunter Robin.
- Shirase from Battle Programmer Shirase.
- Amy from Burst Angel.
- Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh!!. He could also fall under The Cracker, but technically, the few times we see him hacking, he's helping out the good guys.
- The whole premise of Bloody Monday.
- 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.
- The Laughing Man, from Ghost in the Shell.
- Aoi Kyougoku from Imadoki!, especially with the elevator.
- Christina Sierra from Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and Hilde Schbeiker from Gundam Wing were hinted to be these, but we didn't get to see many results.
- Takeshi Katori and Youko Sahara, the main charas of Video Warrior Laserion.
- Aramusha from Mythic Quest.
- Helba from .hack. She is considered a criminal due to the fact that hacking is a captial crime after Pluto's kiss, but does it entirely for fun and to protect the online game "The World".
- Russia is mentioned in the 2010 Bloodbath and Fantasia 2 as "tinkering" with his computer.
- 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. She's immune to the "it's always the Playful Hacker whom authorities pursue first" part of this trope, because she is one of the authorities. In the hacker underground, she is known by the pseudonym "Goalkeeper", and is highly respected to the point that hackers try to break into an otherwise-mundane system because she put together its protection.
- 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.
- 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.
- Riley from National Treasure.
- The entire cast of Sneakers, except Mary McDonnell.
- David Lightman, Matthew Broderick's character in the movie 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.
- Two of the three heroes of Live Free or Die Hard.
- Mr. Universe from Serenity.
- 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 madskillz 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, 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.
- Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother centers around a group of Playful Hacker characters 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.
- 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.
- The Smoking Gnu are more Playful Hackers turned Crackers, as they use tricks they originally discovered while playing around with the mechanisms to work out how to physically destroy the entire network of clacks with a message. It should be noted that they don't actually enact that plan..
- 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.
- Cadel Darkkon functions as this in Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius Trilogy. 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.
- 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.
- 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 it's implied that the computer system is deliberately set up to allow and encourage this sort of competition/play/hacking.
- In one book of a mid-1980s adventure series titled Viking Cipher, hero Eric Ivorsen was advised to contact a hacker called Barbarian, who might be able to help with the Viking Cipher project ... but could he be trusted? Less than ten minutes after Ivorsen got in touch, Barbarian claimed to have traced the online connection and learned his name and address. Eric didn't believe even the government could trace the line and break through his security that fast (1980s, remember), and Barbarian was supposedly a murderer in prison — not likely to have the best and fastest equipment — so he challenged: "What is my name?" The response was, "You doubt Barbarian's power? Heresy! I will give you one more chance, Eric Ivorsen. What does Viking Cipher want from me?" Cue Oh Crap by Ivorsen, at least once he got over pure astonishment. Luckily, Barbarian was a Playful Hacker, not The Cracker ... and he wasn't even really a convict; he just used that persona to keep people from trying to coerce him.
Live Action TV
- 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 impulsions 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 H 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 would appear to have been this for a few years before being recruited by the FBI. (Recruited, very possibly, as in "volunteer, or else.")
- Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Frohike and Langley of X-Files and The Lone Gunmen would seem to qualify.
- Though General Hospital's Spinelli is portrayed as this by friends, he's a lot closer to the Cracker archetype.
- Leverage's Alec Hardison falls under this trope.
- 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.
- Riley on MacGyver hacked the government with no intent other then to see if she could do it and tried to back out once she succeeded. This in fact landed her in prison because organized crime tried to exploit her skill and blackmailed her with the life of her family. However as of the show her spymaster pulled strings for her freedom to let Her Fight Crime.
- B.B. from Metal Gear Acid 2. Instead of being childlike, though, he was—literally—a child (age negotiable, but still in Elementary School). He played comic relief throught the game, culminating in him copying Psychic Powers from a boss and hypnotising the President of the United States—totally ridiculous, but it worked because it was funny.
- One of Otacon's talents in Metal Gear Solid to boot. 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 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.
- 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 recieve 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 zettabytes 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.
- 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, at least 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)
- 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 Mom Lalonde from Homestuck. Sollux is a better example of the trope - he once managed to hook Terezi into contact with Doc Scratch. Who doesn't have an account on the chat client she uses. And uses a TYPEWRITER. AND LIVES ON THE MOON.
- Zaboo occasionally ventures into this territory in The Guild.
- Several of them in the Chaos Timeline.
- Freddie from Behind the Veil fits pretty well, despite being born a wolf. Mike Hoffman also has shades of this.
- Mysterious Mr. M of LIS DEAD can infiltrate deep into a secret organization, barely escape by the skin of his wits, and code a nice little Tetris minigame when he gets home, snarking all the while
- 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).
- By the bytes, it all makes sense! Enzo is some edutainment software, whilst Fong is the kernel.
- Given Mouse and Bob's past "association", she's more likely a tweaking app.
- By the bytes, it all makes sense! Enzo is some edutainment software, whilst Fong is the kernel.
- 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.
- While he's more of a Technopath, Doc Hartford of the Galaxy Rangers never lacks for a sense of humor, and is more likely to try and sweet-talk or trick an AI than overpower it.
- Robin in Young Justice.
- "I hacked the motion sensors."
- Many computer geeks feel themselves to be exactly this. This flavor of hacker refer to themselves as "White Hats" (at least, those who just look for exploitations and inform the authors of the software). Word of advice—don't screw with government pages, though. It seems any sort of hacker does time after vandalizing a government page.
- The trick is to vandalize some other government's page than your own. (Just kidding, never do anything like that—honest!)
- The meaning of "Hack".
- 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.com is (apparently) particularly vulnerable to guinea pigs, or as they call themselves, TEH PIGZ.
- You Tube rickrolled everyone on April Fools.
- 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 propogation of the fake antivirus progam MS Antivirus and posted their earnings from the fraudulent program. The company's name? Bakasoftware.
- Lulz Security/Antisec members considered themselves to be these, as evidenced by their snarky, meme-laden press releases. Since they also claimed their main motivation was to have fun by causing mayhem, the authorities disagreed with their self-assessment.
- The NSA has their own department of white hat hackers that constantly test their own systems.
- As do many other governments and large private companies. The industry term for what they do is "penetration testing".
- 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.