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One of the more notable archetypes to emerge in the 90's and 00's has been the hacker hero. Hackers have increasingly become the central protagonists in movies, using their computer skills to augment the "system" and drive the plot. Hackers are here defined as programers that work from outside the system and have powers to manipulate the system that ordinary people lack.

Hackers are often analogous to wizards in fantasy books. Harry Potter and Gandolf have many of the same qualities of hackers in their ability to manipulate the basic structure of the world that surrounds us. Fantasy novels ask us to take it is a basic premise that magic exists, but hackers work within the world that we inhabit. The hacker/wizard trope thus embodies Arthur Clark's law that any technology of sufficient complexity is indistinguishable from magic.[1]

Whereas a traditional hero or Robin Hood might use physical technologies and tactics to succeed, a hacker hero uses mental tools and technology to achieve their goals. In the real world, hacker heros are those that use their powers to expose insecurities in systems, spread information to groups that need it, and discover and make known unjust acts or persons.

In fiction, the most prominent example a hacker hero would be Neo, the main protagonist in the Matrix. As a hacker who suspected that there was more to life than met the eye, he discovered that his entire life and reality was a computer program. In addition, he discovered that he was "the one" that had the power to manipulate this reality-program. Other hacker heros include the protagonists from Swordfish, Hackers, Terminator 2, The Social Network, Serial Experiments Lain and supporting actors in the X-files, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop.


  1. Clarke, Arthur C. Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination. Published in Profiles of the Future. Harper & Row, 1962. Revised 1973.