Art movements such as Fluxus and Happenings in the 70s created a climate of receptability in regard to loose-knit organizations and group activities where spontaneity, a return to primitivist behavior, and an ethics where activities and socially-engaged art practices became tantamount to aesthetic concerns.
The conflation of these two histories in the mid-to-late 90s resulted in cross-overs between virtual sit-ins, electronic civil disobedience, denial-of-service attacks, as well as mass protests in relation to groups like the IMF and World Bank. The rise of collectivies, net.art groups, and those concerned with the fluid interchange of technology and real-life (often from an environmental concern) gave birth to this new practice.
As a principle of political activism, reality hacking takes advantage of the insight of linguists and sociologists who argue that post-twentieth-century mass culture in the advanced world has become particularly impervious to either positive or negative rethinking of community. Negative assertions about community — in the form of negative news stories and mass political protests — tend to fall on ears overloaded by daily tragedy in the news, even when the causes and facts they relate are valid and deserving. Positive reimaginings of community — in the form of utopian havens, alternative religious or political structures, or idealistic protest against the status quo — equally tend to fall upon unbelieving ears of busy individuals who have already accepted the standards, sacrifices, and limits of the reality in which they normally operate.
As an alternative to these dead ends of twentieth-century political activism, reality hacking tries to capture the attention of individuals in their normal course of regular information consumption. It may involve attracting mainstream media attention to an attention-getting fringe political issue more liable to generate rethinking of cultural norms than standard debates to which the public has already become jaded. Or it may involve harnessing the means of information dissemination itself, using online information sources to disseminate alternative definitions of commonly accepted facts.
The concept of reality hacking as an occult facet was extended in the goth-punk, occult-inspired White Wolf role-playing game Mage: The Ascension. In this game, Reality Hackers are a subculture of the Virtual Adept Tradition who use the computer hacker phenomenon as a metaphor. These Reality Hackers seek to "hack" reality through a variety of real-life parallels; for example, a Reality Hacker wishing to improve his health might actually find a way to manipulate his own "source code": his DNA. Reality Hackers find systems in all places, from chemistry to economics, and use their knowledge of the factors within those systems to alter those systems in the same way a traditional computer hacker would alter the source code of a program in order to manipulate its operation or purpose. In the game, the Reality Hackers often viewed reality itself as one big program; the computer hacker and computer cracker attitude towards programs and systems often extended into this observation, as far as what the Reality Hackers thought would be ethical use of this knowledge.