Virtual Ghost

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Star Wars holograms and Force ghosts are both pale blue. Coincidence? Probably.

The Sci Fi version of the Spirit Advisor.

Death is a real bummer. Fortunately, in the future, we'll find a way around it. Using ScienceTM, we will be able to squirrel away the mind of a dead or dying person in a computer, and digitally recreate them later as a Projected Man with holograms.

They may not be thrilled by this, but as they're dead, they don't get any say in the matter.

Usually overlaps with Intangible Man. If Cyberspace is involved, they will be corporeal in that plane.

In series with a Cool Starship, it's particularly common for a Virtual Ghost to end up running the ship, especially if they are female.

Interestingly a Virtual Ghost is technically just as much an AI as a robot, but even though they are essentially a computer with a preprogrammed human personality and (sometimes) the memories of a deceased person they will probably be treated different from other robots and computers. Whether the character is the same person as the dead character, or merely a piece of software that has been written to thinks it is, is a famous philosophical conundrum... that will almost certainly not be brought up in the series in question.

A Virtual Ghost can end up practically reincarnated if made out of Hard Light. Sister Trope to Living Memory. See also Hologram Projection Imperfection.

Compare with Digitized Hacker, which is a mind that has integrated with the internet.

Examples of Virtual Ghost include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Sailor Moon, when the Sailor Senshi are transported to the lunar ruins of the Moon Kingdom they are greeted by the virtual ghost of Queen Serenity, Sailor Moon's mother from her previous life.
  • Bunches of examples from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
    • Well, not really. An attempt was made once with six million people simultaneously, but aborted.
    • Motoko from the movie wonders if she is a virtual ghost, and if her personality and memories are, in fact, programmed, due to the small amount of brain matter she is left with.
    • Motoko Aramaki and the rest of the "children" of Motoko and the Puppetmaster were not born with biological bodies, and yet have a "ghost".
    • The Puppetmaster also points out that everyone leaves "ghosts" in the minds of those we interact with, i.e. we recreate realistic images of those we interact with in our minds.
      • Well, useful images; Puppetmaster freely admits that information preserved this way is heavily fragmented, and most personal details are lost - naturally, since only interactions with others are "recorded."
    • Theoretically this presumably is the result in mid-way of a Ghost Dub, but it's just a deteriorated, incomplete copy, while the original dies. Trying to copy an entire human brain is difficult business in this universe.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe Schwarzwald made a Virtual Ghost cameo in The Big O, inexplicably taking over a robot and killing the pilot for no real reason other than to indirectly save the hero via Deus Ex Machina, though, if the ghost's words are to be believed, it was a type 4 Deus Ex Machina (Chekhov's Gun style) as the Megadeus are sentient and Schwarzwald, despite his insanity, turns out to be much more correct about the world than anyone else in the show.
  • Noah (and Gozaburo) Kaiba in the anime-only Virtual Nightmare Arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!!
  • The final fate of Harry MacDougall in Outlaw Star, after he died and fulfilled the series' quota for Made of Plasticine.
  • Deconstructed Trope in Dennou Coil, where several virtual ghosts appear that are fleeting remnants of consciousnesses of eyeglass-users who got too integrated into the network and died. They're barely sentient and appear as tormented, shadowy beings.
  • Serial Experiments Lain has a field day with this one. The first episode starts with two characters killing themselves to achieve this, and soon after the Id of one character, a scientist and the recreated image (see Ghost in the Shell above) of a third character's paternal aspects become virtual ghosts. Then it gets complicated...
  • Tieria Erde in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 The Movie.
  • After his death near the end of 20th Century Boys, Manjoume appears in 21st Century Boys as one of these in the Tomodachi Land Simulation Game bonus stage.
  • The AI versions of Harold Hoerwick in .hack//Sign. They're nowhere near as advanced as most other versions on this page (and rightly so; this series is set 20MinutesIntoTheFuture) and tend to only repeat a few cryptic lines at a time, but the information inevitably proves crucial. He also appears in the four PlayStation 2 games set slightly afterward.
  • Zegapain is about this trope and giant robots.

Comic Books

  • The X-Men's Bishop had a sister named Shard who was essentially this.
  • Jor-El in recent[when?] Superman titles, riffing off The Movie and Smallville.
  • Transmetropolitan has its usual unique take on this with foglets. When a person goes foglet tiny nanomachines eat his body for the energy to scan and download his brain. When it's done, the person is for all intents and purposes a ghost—floating through the air, making himself visible or invisible at will, and performing spooky miracles by reassembling matter at the molecular level. Though society in general doesn't think of it as death, Channon does:

Channon: All I know is that they're going to dump his mind into a bunch of machines the size of a fat virus and then burn his body. Sounds like death to me.

  • The Batman-like version of The Black Terror featured in Tom Strong and its spinoff Terra Obscura had created one of these before his death. Once activated, Terror 2000 manifests as a hologram projected from a swarm of floating golf ball-sized machines.

Films -- Live Action

  • The Superman movies had Virtual Ghost versions of the Elders of Krypton sent along with the spaceship.
  • Subverted in the film version of I Robot. A dead scientist leaves behind a 2D holographic recording of himself to guide the main character, but this is a more realistic hologram than most, in that it is a simple computer program rather than a copy of the dead man's personality. Its most commonly-used statement is "I'm sorry, my responses are limited; you must ask the right question." Sonny himself describes the hologram simply as part of a "Trail of Bread Crumbs".
  • Used in Batman and Robin—with Alfred, of all people, who calls it a "virtual simulation".
  • Jobe becomes one of these at the end of Lawnmower Man, after consciously putting himself into the network and leaving his body behind.
  • Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. A Tesla coil-projected image of Mad Scientist Dr Totenkopf warns off the protagonists, but it turns out he's been dead for over twenty years, leaving his robots to carry out his scheme. The actor playing Dr. Totenkopf is one of these, too: the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier. Like his character, Olivier had been dead for a while (15 years at the time of filming) and appears via computer manipulated stock footage.


  • The Dixie Flatline construct in Neuromancer. The titular AI's purpose is to create Virtual Ghosts, including ones of Case's old girlfriend -- and Case himself.
  • The first Lazarus Churchyard story features "Virtual Heaven", a cyberspace environment full of the digitally preserved personalities of deceased programmers.
  • Shade of Garth Nix's Shade's Children. Also, the Leamington personality from the University, though it was much less refined.
  • Used in many of Peter F. Hamilton's novels. There was usually a Hive Mind made up of these ghosts, and this method is considered a viable alternative to death.
  • A future human society in Stephen Baxter's Manifold Space makes use of "limited-sentience projections" as messengers. Initially Nemoto appears several times via more ordinary holographic telepresence, making for an unexpected What Measure Is a Non-Human? moment when another character asks the projection what exactly it is; Virtual Nemoto explains and then looks horrified before dissolving into light.
  • The fairly transhumanist novel Newton's Wake has virtual ghosts as self-aware beings who happen to be susceptible to the same kinds of access restrictions and file system commands as regular bunches of data. Some characters treat owning and utilizing virtual ghosts as slavery. Others test the defenses of computer systems by throwing copies of ghosts at them.

"The uploads replicate and develop relationships. Most of them go very bad. You sometimes get an entire virtual planet of four billion people devoted to building prayer wheels in an attempt at a denial of service attack on God."

  • Calvin Sylveste in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space (and also, to some extent Sun Stealer and the Mademoiselle).
  • In Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon series, each person receives a "cortical stack" at birth that basically runs as a RAID 1 array in that person's brain. If anything happens to your body, your stack can be installed in a new body or copied to disk and allowed to roam the 'nets—but only as long as someone's willing to pay to keep your disk image mounted. One major subplot in the first novel involves the common practice of allowing the dead to testify in homicide investigations—just load the victim's stack and ask him or her who killed their body.
  • The Citizens of Greg Egan's Diaspora are either humanoids who took part in the Introdus, or their descendants. They all live in Polises, giant supercomputers that run separate (but interchangeable) virtual realities.
  • In Ian Banks's Feersum Endjinn people who die have their memories saved and are reincarnated in new bodies, however after a certain number of deaths they are reduced to virtual ghosts. After they die enough times in the virtual world they stop existing altogether.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Jedi and Sith memories consigned to a holocron are actually self-aware, making them great teachers; in the case of the Sith, they can even attempt Grand Theft Me if so inclined (Jedi could probably do it too, but never do if they're still on the Light Side).
  • The idea is older than sometimes realized. "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" in Cordwainer Smith's story of that name written in 1964, is a virtual ghost, and also has a robot copy of her old body.
  • An application of AI in Infinity Beach. The main character uses it to talk to a simulation of her dead sister (which the AI chides her for, saying it's emotionally unhealthy).

Live Action TV

  • Red Dwarf has Rimmer, and occasionally, other deceased crew members.
    • They occasionally do examine it a bit more than most: in the novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers the hologram before Rimmer is assured by the ship's metaphysical psychiatrist that he's not really him, he just thinks he is. And in the "Back To Earth" revival, Rimmer is told there is no moral, ethical or legal problem with killing him, because the real Rimmer is already dead.
  • RoboCop the TV series has Diana, a.k.a. the MetroNet NeuroBrain. Like Robo, a cyborg, but she has even less living tissue, and is permanently installed in a datacenter that runs all of Delta City. She was murdered and installed in the system by corrupt OCP scientists (she was a colleague) and thus helps Robo even against her employers.
  • Super Force featured a low-resolution image of Patrick McNee as the digital recreation of a dead scientist.
  • VR Troopers had the same thing.
  • Max Headroom just barely counts—he was intended to be Edison's Virtual Ghost, but Edison survived, and Max evolved into a very different person.
  • Honorable mention: Al in Quantum Leap—he shows many of the same traits, though he's actually a living human whose holographic form is a sort of telepresence.
  • Garibaldi memorably manages to destroy the world to save it from beyond the grave as a Virtual Ghost in one episode of Babylon 5.
    • Centuries after his death no less.
  • Jor-El in Smallville is probably one of these, though admittedly, it is not quite explicit exactly what he is.
  • Near-miss: the absence of real-time superluminal communication in Andromeda (Faster-Than-Light Travel requires a living pilot) means that all messages must be delivered by courier. In at least one instance, particularly vital information is sent in the form of an AI recreation of the sender, so that his virtual ghost can carry on an interactive conversation.
    • This was actually a Retcon to rationalize the use of real-time interstellar communication in several earlier episodes, which happened because the new producer of the show Did Not Do the Research about the ground rules of the show's universe.
  • A hologram version of Madeline appears in one episode of La Femme Nikita, though she knows she isn't the original.
  • Because no trope is complete without a Star Trek entry: in the Next Generation episode "Inheritance", Data converses with a holographic AI of his creator, Noonien Soong.
    • Not to mention the various EMH/LMH variants seen were based on the personalities and appearances of either Dr. Zimmerman (their creator) or a famous Starfleet doctor.
  • The Doctor Who two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" features "data ghosts", neural patterns that are left over in the interfaces of the archaeologists' suits after the archaeologist dies. The ghost is an echo of the person's personality, unable to interact or learn and slowly "winding down" to the point where it can only drone mindlessly. In "Forest of the Dead", it turns out one of the dead archaeologists was able to transfer their full personality into the library's WiFi system, and by the end, the Doctor's managed to transfer the personalities of everyone who died into the library's computer.
  • Caprica has a complex case in the form of Zoe Graystone's Avatar. She's a recreation of her creator, based on publicly available records of her life, and yet, even her father acknowledges that the difference between the original (and now deceased) Zoe and the avatar version is inconsequential. Unlike most examples of this trope, the avatar version of Zoe existed alongside her creator, and the two had been able to converse. The questions her existence raises for the nature of what it means to be a person is at the philosophical heart of the series.
    • Tamara is a more typical example, created after her original's death and not even realizing she was dead until recently.
  • In Knight Rider 2010, the supercar's computer intelligence was actually a copy of the mind of his girlfriend, who'd been in Cyberspace at the time of her murder so that her mind was not actually in her body at the time. In addition to controlling the car, she could project a hologram of herself.
  • This may be the ultimate fate of the Asgard as of season 10 of Stargate SG-1. With their last attempt at curing their genetic disease ending in failure, they opt for mass suicide and the destruction of their society in order to stop other races from pillaging their ruins. But not before transferring all their knowledge and technology into a legacy device which was handed over to Stargate Command. This device also has holographic projections of the Asgard people, which can be accessed at will. Note, however, that said holograms are never shown to have personality, merely being a glorified user interface similar to the I Robot example.
    • There's also the upload of Dr. Franklin to Destiny's mainframe via the neural interface chair in Stargate Universe, followed by Ginn and Amanda Perry late in Season 2.


  • The band X Japan did something as close to this as can be managed in Real Life for performances in 2008 and 2009. Lead guitarist hide died in 1998, but it was pretty much agreed among the band and the fans that he could not be left out of the performances due to his impact upon the band and his iconic status as a member of it. A hologram of hide (created by, among other people, one of his former solo programmers) played along with the live band, almost perfectly matching hide's facial expressions and behavior.
  • Perhaps the most heartwarming instance of this trope applied to music occurs in the 2012 tour of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. The tour ads bill "Richard Burton -- In Sight and Sound!" among the other lead singers...behind-the-scenes material on the official website shows how they made the new CGI Burton hologram possible, and indicates that this might very well be the first time a long-dead thespian returned to stage work through holography. It's a thing of beauty, and brings a lump to the throat when you see it.
  • Tupac Shakur's appearance onstage at Coachella 2012.

Tabletop Games

  • The Transhuman Space setting for GURPS has virtual ghosts via destructive uploading. The result is actually called a ghost, and is legally the same person, although opinion is divided as to whether the uploading process is really immortality, or a really expensive and narcissistic suicide.
  • In Eclipse Phase, a large number of human beings have spent time as a virtual ghost, due to the evacuation of Earth during The Singularity mostly being done via Brain Uploading. The majority were reincarnated into cheap, mass-produced robot bodies, but some decided they preferred to stay digital. Additionally, backups and Altered Carbon-style cortical stacks mean that death is optional for just about everybody but the bioconservatives and terminally poor. People can get an implant that allows a virtual ghost to ride along in their body.

Video Games

  • Dr Carroll in Perfect Dark is the mind of a dead scientist programmed into a floating laptop computer. He appears in human form in Perfect Dark Zero.
  • This is Megaman.EXE's origin in the video games. Interestingly, not present in the anime version of Mega Man NT Warrior.
    • It also seems likely that the Dr. Light hologram that appears in the Mega Man X series is a Virtual Ghost—in the first game, it was possible that he simply provided pre-recorded messages, although remarkably prescient ones... but since then, the hologram has displayed knowledge that Dr. Light simply could not have had during his lifetime. This suggests he's still "alive" in some form.
      • In fact, the end of X5 suggests that Light's hologram is capable of existing outside the capsules. In fact, the capsules in the game show that the hologram knows who Zero is (there are various explanations for this), but also who Alia is, which would be impossible for the original, living Dr. Light. In addition, he actually tells Zero early in the game that he has no knowledge of Zero's systems, so he can't upgrade him, but then states later, in a hidden capsule, that he's done some research and can now upgrade Zero. A very capable Virtual Ghost, indeed.
    • Mega Man X himself takes a page out of his creator Dr. Light's book. X is now an Energy Being to serve as Zero's Obi Wan when Mega Man Zero rolls around.
  • Cortana in the Halo game series is copied from a cloned brain of the creator of the SPARTAN-II Program, Dr. Catherine Halsey; no wonder she and Master Chief get along so well. In fact, this trope applies to all "smart" AIs; because they're copied from human brains, they have a much greater capacity to learn than their "dumb" counterparts, but they only have a life-span of about seven years due to information overload, and are far more prone to rampancy. The process also destroys the brain being copied from.
    • It is possible for a "smart" AI to hang on for a little longer than seven years, if it has a purpose to do so. Juliana, the AI of the Rubble asteroid base in The Cole Protocol, only shows small signs of rampancy despite being older than 7. However, after the end of her purpose, she volunteers to make a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Forerunner AI 343 Guilty Spark is based off the mind of a prehistoric human named Chakas.
  • In Space Quest IV, villain Sludge Vohaul returns as a Virtual Ghost. He also attempts to hijack the body of Roger's son to avoid being deleted.
  • Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 has this. A mission in the hunter's guild involves you escorting Elly, a girl who exchanged messages with a friend named Calus who was in Pioneer 1 and seemed like the only survivor since he continued messaging her long after the vessel exploded and traces of the people inside were lost. The further you go, the more Calus's messages seemed to contradict itself until finally you meet Calus, who turns out to be an AI in a computer that's hacked and close to self-termination. An NPC after the mission is finished explained he heard of a professor with the same name who died young of illness and created AI-Calus to live on. Afterwards, Elly had a copy of his AI, which is referred as Cal in Episode 2.
  • Adam, the computer from Metroid Fusion is actually the mind of Samus's old CO Adam Malkovich. Who would've guessed? Anyone with a brain, perhaps, the foreshadowing is so hilariously obvious.
  • In Anachronox, the main character had his dead secretary digitized into an artificial intelligence on his PDA.
  • Although not an exact Virtual Ghost as described above, Ether in the little known FMV game Terror TRAX: Track of the Vampire describes herself as a "digital ghost".
  • The dialogue for Dr Killjoy in The Suffering seems to indicate that he is not a ghost or returned zombie-spirit-thingie like so many other adversaries. Apparently he set up spiritually-juiced film projectors throughout his Asylum and most of Carnate Island to test a subject he knew would be coming by long after he was dead. There are a few bits of physical interaction with the real world but mainly he is confined to filmstrips.
    • The second game allows him to extend his influence to televisions in Baltimore.
  • An experiment in A.I. led to this in one story arc in City of Heroes. The player aids the doctor who was murdered and uploaded her mind into the Internet destroy the machine and her killers.
  • In Destroy All Humans! 2, Pox has become one of these.
  • The VI located on Mass Effect 1's planet Ilos contains the last untouched record of the Protheans to send a message to future civilizations warning them of the Reaper threat. While the VI is not a ghost per se, it has access to a vast amount of personal data and information about the Protheans that is unlike anywhere in the extant Galaxy, and claims its personality is loosely based on the project director's. To say that the dialogue that occurs between Shepard and the VI is haunting would be an understatement.
    • The Quarians played this trope straight as a way to preserve their ancestors memories and knowledge, but stopped after the Geth rebellion put the fear of true AI into them.
      • The codex states that the reason the Quarians were so into AI research in the first place was a desire to upgrade these recordings into true intelligent virtual ghosts rather than limited-responses VIs. Since one of the first things the Geth did was trash the ancestral archive, this didn't work out.
  • Jefferson Clay in the Independence War series became one of these in his final battle. Created without consent, he is understandably upset about his situation and acts as the ship's resident Deadpan Snarker.
  • Prometheus is this in both The Conduit and Conduit 2.
  • Infel and Nenesha from Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, posing as Mind Guardian of Cloche and Luca, respectively. They are also the Big Bad, and are manipulating Cloche and Luca into opening the Tree of Marta.
  • Lumi in Child of Eden.
  • Ma3a in Tron 2.0 straddles the lines of this, Brain Uploading, and Interface with a Familiar Face. Dr. Lora Baines-Bradley was killed by being partially digitized with her laser. Whether by accident or design, the part of her left in cyberspace was compiled with the AI project she and Alan were working on, creating Ma3a.
  • Clay Kaczmarek Subject 16 in Assassin's Creed: Revelations has a copy of his mind in the Templar's Animus machine. He later gets deleted once the system starts purging files.
  • In Portal 2, Cave Johnson's dying wish is to get a Brain Uploading. Ironically, he dies before they could do it, so they go with his back-up dying wish: apply the Brain Uploading to Caroline, AKA GlaDOS, who ends up becoming more Mission Control Is Off Its Meds than Spirit Advisor Virtual Ghost.

Web Comics

  • Towards the end of the web comic Narbonic, main character Dave Davenport turns into one of these—albeit a somewhat crazier variant than is the norm. Fortunately, his girlfriend is a Mad Geneticist, so he got better.
  • Deconstructed with remarkable speed and efficiency in Freefall strips #380 through #383.
  • Similarly deconstructed in 'Schlock Mercenary, here and here.

Web Original

  • Red vs. Blue offers an interesting take on this: Church is killed early in the series and "comes back" as a ghost. However, in Reconstruction he finds that he is an AI based on a (living) person's mind. The newest series, Recreation, seems to be about bring Church back to "life" with the remnants of his digital memories, themselves manifested as an AI.
    • Tex may be a more straight version of this trope.

Western Animation

  • Possibly Franz Hopper from Code Lyoko; his daughter Aelita was thought to be a Virtual Ghost, but is actually a digitized person who has survived for years in Cyberspace. Ulrich also spent one episode as a sort of Quantum Ghost due to his mind being accidentally separated from his virtual body.
  • Borderline case: Watson in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century -- he's not so much a digital recreation of his namesake as a Robot Buddy who consciously chose to imitate Watson to the best of his abilities.
  • Megabyte pulls this trick near the end of ReBoot. Even though he's already a computer program on a show taking place inside a computer. Yeah, probably best not to think about it too hard...
    • He did this twice. First to mess with whoever tried to shut down Mainframe's core manually, second time as a distraction. He was more or less intangible both times.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Lost Soul", Robert Vance does this to himself so that he can advise his company from beyond the grave.
    • Subverted in Return of the Joker. The subversion is the kind of hardware the Virtual Ghost runs in. It's former Robin Tim Drake's brain.
  • In Totally Spies!: "Animatrons/Man or Machine", the Big Bad turns out to be an android that the real Eisenstein uploaded his personality to before his death.
  • Quite literally on Futurama. When Bender commits suicide in one episode his programming is uploaded into the cloud and he acts like a "normal" ghost who can't be seen by anyone except the robot devil and can possess machines.
  • Proffessor Honneycut from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had his body destroyed when he was struck by lightning, incedentally he was helping his robot assistant Sal get untangled from some fallen wires and had his mind uploaded to Sal's body.It is later revealed that he uploaded himself to the internet shortly before his heroic sacrifice and comes back later to further aid the turtles.