What Does This Button Do?

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

When it comes to curiosity, there are generally two main types. The first type is patient enough to wait for an explanation to be given, usually by an expert on a subject and/or its creator. Someone who can break it down into a more simplified language, to a point where it can be easily understood, what its benefits are, what dangers it may impose, and the like. The second type, well...doesn't have that kind of patience. Or insight. Or anything resembling restraint. They're willing to stumble blindly towards a control panel and start randomly pressing buttons. Usually they'll ask the all important question, "What Does This Button Do?" just before doing so. Or just after doing so, if the work emphasizes them being unthinking rather than reckless.

This is the kind of thing that can result in self-destruct sequences being set off, Wave Motion Guns made to be even more dangerous without anyone who knows what they're doing to run them, all while someone with half a brain will scream warnings (and insults to their intelligence) just before things get wrecked.

A very bad way to tempt fate. The proper response to anyone who asks this question is, "Don't touch it, you idiot!" Note, however, that big red buttons are usually a Chekhov's Gun: even in the event that a curious character is prevented from pushing it, rest assured that you'll eventually find out what the button does.

Beware! Dangerously Genre Savvy villains may leave them lying out in the open as Schmuck Bait...

Examples of What Does This Button Do? include:

Anime and Manga

  • Tomo from Azumanga Daioh once found a button that would kill Chiyo when pressed. She pressed it anyway. It was only in a dream, though (not that it alleviated Chiyo's anxieties about Tomo, anyway).

Chiyo: Please don't kill me. Even in a dream.

  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Steel Troops has Chizuka messing around with a button of a Humongous Mecha. The robot thens fires laser beam that destroys an empty building nearby.
  • Mazinger Z: This series mixed this trope with with Falling Into the Cockpit, and brutally deconstructed both of them (funny and ironic, keeping in mind Mazinger Z was the first mecha show where the pilot fell into the cockpit). When The Hero Kouji sat on the Hover Pilder (the flying device controls the Super Robot) for first time, he knew absolutely nothing about piloting. His little brother suggested him maybe it was a real bad idea, and he angrily replied he only needed figuring out what each button did. So what he began pressing random buttons to ascertain that... and He nearly got himself and his brother killed. Mazinger-Z went on a rampage, destroying everything on its path, and it only stopped when Sayaka showed up and carefully explained Kouji what he had to do (after getting baffled at the thought of someone doing something SO stupid). And it was way worse in the original manga version, since Kouji activated Mazinger-Z in the middle of a big city. To be fair, though, the person had built Mazinger-Z was dead, so it was not like if Kouji could consult someone about it at the time.
  • Asked in Episode 15 of Bodacious Space Pirates when Marika brings the yacht club aboard the Bentenmaru to fill in for her quarantined crew. Answer: It fires the ship's main cannons.

Comic Books

  • In Watchmen Laurie was exploring Nite Owl's aircraft and started pressing buttons on the panel. She pressed on and it turned off the lights. Then, she tapped another button with the fire marked on it for the cigarette lighter. It's not a cigarette lighter. After the fire was put out and Dan mentioned the air-to-air missiles, Laurie announced that she had just quit smoking forever. In a nice bit of Foreshadowing, Dan mentions that The Comedian did the same thing back 1977...
  • Teen Titans; Tim Drake manages to smuggle a batmobile to California under the 'batarang budget' and tells the group not to touch the blue button after being asked that question. A page later reveals it most likely contacts Batman, right after Kid Flash has managed to crash the car upside down.
  • Done in Gorsky and Butch, in a direct Dexters Laboratory parody. (Unfortunately, the button was in the middle of a bomb that Gorsky was trying to disarm).
  • In the comic version of Watchmen, Silk Spectre accidentally activates the flamethrower on Nite Owl's ship because the button had a flame drawn on it and she thought it was a cigarette lighter.
    • In the film version, she doesn't smoke, but still pushes the button just to see what it does.

Fan Works


Gune: Does this look familiar? Do you know what it is? Neither do I. I made it last night in my sleep. Apparently I used Gindrogac. Highly unstable. I put at button on it. Yes. I wish to press it, but I'm not sure what will happen if I do.

  • Rex in Toy Story asks this while pointing to a big red button on Buzz Lightyear's armor. Subverted in that it just plays a voice recording. In the same scene, there's also a bit in which one of the toys activates Buzz's laser, though without the line.
  • In Yellow Submarine, Ringo presses a button just after he's told not to do so. It is a panic button/ejector seat that puts him in the Sea of Monsters... (Ringo Starr himself said children all over the world asked him "why did you push the button?")
  • In the 1983 film WarGames, this concept is spoofed, when a tourist at NORAD is tricked by a military tour guide into pushing a big red button that simulates an emergency response, for comedic effect.
  • Will Smith's character in Men in Black is firmly instructed early in the movie to never, ever touch the red button. In the crisis of the climax scene, Tommy Lee Jones tells him to push it. It activates turbo engines that allow the car to drive on walls and ceilings to get through a traffic-clogged tunnel.
  • In The Fifth Element, the Big Bad promises his Swiss Army Weapons to the alien mercenaries in exchange for the MacGuffin he seeks. The container turns out to be empty; he gives them one weapon anyway for trying, but they discover a red button on the gun whose purpose he didn't explain. That was his insurance in case he got ripped off. The aliens press it, which causes the gun to self-destruct, killing them all.

Zorg: Now a real killer, when he picked up the ZF-1, would've immediately asked about the little red button on the bottom of the gun.

  • In Undercover Brother, Conspiracy Brother sees a Big Red Button in the control room of The Man's base labelled "Atomic Core". He goes ahead and presses it anyway, starting the self destruct sequence.
  • In the Wonkavator scene at the end of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Wonka lets Charlie press the only button Wonka never pressed. But then, Wonka knows where they are going to: Up and Out!


  • Lampshaded by the joke, "Do you know what the last thing they said on the Challenger space shuttle before it blew up? Gee, what does this button do?"


  • Discussed several times in Discworld.
    • Wizards will always pull anything marked "Do Not Pull" just to see what all the fuss is about, and if you put a sign saying "End of the World Switch" on a lever in a remote cave somewhere, the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.
    • Soul Music: The shop full of magical musical instruments, where the question was "What happens if I pick up this instrument and play it?" One of the scarier ones in the shop was the horn of either Heimdall or Gabriel.
    • Hogfather: The wizards find a nailed-shut door in Unseen University, and naturally have Modo the handyman un-nail it. After Ridcully has explored the full capabilities of the B. S. Johnson bathroom behind the door, he has Modo nail it up again; but Modo leaves the nail-heads sticking out a little to make it easier next time the Gentlemen want it opened.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy plays this trope straight, while subverting the Shmuck Bait element and averting the Chekhov's Gun of it: "[Arthur] reached out and pressed an invitingly large button on a nearby panel. The panel lit up with the words 'Please do not press this button again.'" At no point is this button ever mentioned again.
  • One character in Finder's Stone trilogy thought the best way to learn what unknown magical devices do is to tell them all known stock command words and look what will happen.

"Nonsense," Olive said with a sniff. "There's no danger as long as you know the right way to deal with these things. All you have to do is hold your hand over your head--" the halfling demonstrated, while Akabar stepped backward and Alias rose to her feet "--and command the ring, 'Show your power to me.' If that doesn't work then there are certain key words you should--"
They never heard the rest of the bard's lecture. Suddenly the ring's power did indeed display itself.

Make your choice, adventurous stranger
Strike the bell and bide the danger
Or wonder 'till it drives you mad
What would have happened if you had

  • In Artemis Fowl The Atlantis Complex Mulch amuses himself on a long trip in a stolen shuttle by doing this repeatedly, activating the emergency braking system and dumping a load of "waste" on some very surprised fishermen.

"I should have guessed that one. There's a little picture of a toilet on the button."

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • At the end of her first adventure, Leela invited herself into the TARDIS, and it dematerialized as the Doctor said "Don't touch that button!" (i.e. the dematerialization button). The only consequence was that she became the Doctor's new companion.
    • The fourth Doctor's companion, Harry Sullivan, had a bad habit of pushing buttons to see what would happen. He got over it after about the third time he nearly killed Sarah.
    • When Tennant is first introduced, he parodies this Trope when he finds a big red button whilst exploring his new personality and dubs it "The Great Big Threatening Button Which Should Never Be Pressed Under Any Circumstances" and presses it, resulting in the freedom, as opposed to the deaths, of one-third of the humans on Earth.
    • Eleven also has his moments: "There's something here that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick!"
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", McCoy, under the influence of cordrazine, passes out in the street of a Depression-era city. A tramp picks up his phaser, curious, and hits a button or two. Oops.
  • McKay in Stargate Atlantis claims the rights to this trope in "Sunday" and berates two other scientists for using it, since he has the ability to fix whatever he might screw up, while they will usually turn to him for the same. Doesn't always turn out that way, but did in this episode.
  • On Top Gear, James May built a limousine from an Alfa Romeo and a Saab, creating a two-headed Frankenvehicle. Richard Hammond couldn't resist pulling a lever on the Alfa side... which uncoupled the steering and left the "Alfaab" fishtailing wildly while Jeremy Clarkson tried to regain control.
  • Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000. In one movie Servo greets a nuclear blast with the line "Oh, that's what that button does!"
  • Lampshaded in the Father Ted episode "Flight into Terror". We're explicitly told that the Big Red Button dumps all the fuel, but for some reason it's placed next to another Big Red Button, which is to be pressed when the plane is in trouble (in this case, an old priest in the cockpit going a bit mad and molesting the pilot). When the pilot asks Dougal to press the button...
  • One episode of Married With Children revolved around Al and the rest of No Ma'am trying to figure out what a button in the Bundys' kitchen did. The button itself was harmless enough;[1] Al's electrician skills, less so.
  • Eureka
    • Fargo's GD personnel file contains the phrase "inappropriately pushed button" 37 times.
    • In one of the episodes, Fargo finds a strange device and, naturally, turns it on. It turns out to be a force-field generator, whose field is constantly increases in size, threatening to destroy Eureka. When Carter finds out that someone gave the device to Fargo, he berates that person, who claims he didn't think that Fargo would activate it. Carter looks at him incredulously and points out that it's Fargo they're talking about.
  • Primeval:

Connor: What does this button d--
Lester: Please don't touch anything. I don't want you changing my settings.
Connor: ...Sorry.

  • Detective Beckett often laments that Castle is prone to this. Hilarity Ensues in one episode when his curiosity results in him believing he has been cursed by a Mayan mummy!
  • In the pilot episode of Special Unit 2, Benson is patting down O'Malley and takes out his strange-looking gun. He tries to warn her about the infrared hairline trigger, but too late. She ends up blowing up a car with a single shot.
  • In part 3 of the "Father and Music" episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, when Fred Rogers' son (Jimmy Rogers) and baby grandson (Alexander Rogers visits the set. They started playing with the trolley and the baby was about to play with the trolley control switch when Fred Rogers pointed out that it only works when the trolley is on the tracks.


  • In Genesis' music video for "Land of Confusion" starring Spitting Image dolls, Reagan presses "Nuke" instead of "Nurse". That earns him a slap on the back of the head from Nancy.
  • In the music video for The Young Ones' "Living Doll", Vyvyan says "What does this button do?", pushes a button on the mixing desk, and blows up the studio.
  • The Filk Song "Don't Push That Button" describes a few misadventures of someone who never heeds that advice.
  • At the end of Weird Al Yankovic's "Don't Touch That", a recording engineer begs him not to touch a big red button on the control panel even though he's curious about what it does;he touches the button and the song ends with a loud explosion.
  • The intro to "Doomsday" by Mephiskapheles has an idiot saying: "Ayayayayayay! Ay, what's this button for?"

New Media

  • The red button at a multi-site site, run by Sprint, that says "push now". The old version of the site opened with a USB device plugging into a computer. It does nothing, and nearly 300,000 people have fallen for it. However, now that the site redirects to this new version, over 120,100 people have fallen for the one there.
  • This LOL from Pundit Kitchen.

Newspaper Comics

  • This rather surreal Dilbert comic.
  • This Greenside, though it's never made explicit whether it's because the character in question is a Marine, or simply because he's a Private.
  • In the German comic Rudi, the button in question automatically moves the kickstand of a motorbike. Cue the Motorcycle Dominoes.


Arthur Dent: What happens if I press this button?
Ford Prefect: I wouldn't--
Arthur Dent: Oh.
Ford Prefect: What happened?
Arthur Dent: A sign lit up, saying "Please do not press this button again."

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Ling Xiaoyu says this in Panda's Tekken 5 ending. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles, while Alvis is informing the party about the traps scattered around the Haientia Tomb Melia is trapped into, Reyn wanders off, delivers the line, and pushes the button in front of him. Cue trapdoor sending everyone (and eventually Riki) to the Catacombs.
  • Marle in Chrono Trigger. While searching for a way out of their post-apocalyptic future, Marle uses this exact phrase before hitting a button that plays a recording of the very day the world "ended". Though, she and her friends take it upon themselves to try and prevent this future. One could argue that pressing it had disastrous effects to the timeline...
  • In Gotcha Force, Yuji will occasionally say this when one of his borgs is destroyed. Given that he does occasionally use borgs that specialize in kamikaze tactics, like the aptly-named Walking Bomb, the implication is (mostly) clear.
  • In the RPG Albion you enter a dungeon with red and green pressure plates. The green plates have positive effects (they open doors that block your way, or treasure rooms), while red ones more or less negative ones (they release monsters or open rooms with cursed items). At one point you enter a room with a blue pressure plate—and a party member, curious what it does, steps on it, which opens a trap door and sends the party crashing down below.
  • The controls in SimAnt included an unmarked white "mystery button" whose effects changed at random with each click. It might tell you a joke, rapidly play every single sound effect, let the spider shoot lasers from its eyes, or annihilate most of your colony. (There were plenty of other effects, some beneficial, but on average clicking the button was disadvantageous to the player.)
  • Mentioned in Mass Effect with the right party-members on Noverria where there is a button which sets off a deadly Neutron purge. Kaidan will actually mention that it's always a good idea to RTFM before pressing any buttons, to Liara's confusion.
  • Beat, from The World Ends With You: "Yo, you show me a button, and I want to push it." To which Neku replies "They design traps like this with you in mind..." (What does it do? Nothing, unless you've solved the puzzle; if you have, the box opens, granting you a key needed to get past a barrier and progress.)
  • In StarCraft II, when Tychus gets his hand on his very own Humongous Mecha, he invokes this trope twice. The first one is simply the big red "fire all cannons" button. The second is his Moment of Awesome.

Tychus: Now how did I miss this button with a skull on it?
Adjutant: Nuclear launch detected. (final Dominion Valhalla base flattened seconds later)

  • Starship Titanic has a button that says, "Push button to disarm bomb." You can guess what it actually does.
  • In World of Warcraft, the boss Mimiron is an inventor, fought in his main workshop. Behind the tank he's adjusting when you encounter him is a massive red button, which is labelled "Do No Press This Button". Pressing it triggers the self-destruct mechanism and the boss hard mode, with a short timer and flames everywhere, as well as provoking an angry rant from the boss on how stupid it was to press that button.
  • Dr. Lugae and Barnabas boss battle in Final Fantasy IV, at least in the DS remake, if you defeat Barnabas first, Lugae will pilot a new one afterward, and accidentally press a self-destruct button wondering what it does, despite the fact that he was the one who created that robot in the first place.
  • At the beginning of Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 3: Lair of the Leviathan, De Cava wonders what the button on the locket does after Guybrush has handed said trinket over to him. It turns out that pressing the button initiates the Voodoo Lady's Grand Theft Me of De Cava as she tells Guybrush his next mission.

Web Animation

  • In The Demented Cartoon Movie, a Blah Guy comes across a set of three buttons, each with a picture beside it. The first is of a brick wall, the second is of a kamikaze watermelon, and the third is an Earthshattering Kaboom. He doesn't speak, but seems to do some thinking before he presses each one—yes, he does press the third one, which has predictable consequences.

Web Comics

Jyrras: The red flashy one? It disables the system so no one can push any of the real buttons.

Web Original

  • In volume 3, episode 10 of RWBY Roman Torchwick has taken over an Atlesian battleship, and amuses himself by pressing buttons on the command console at random. He of course invokes the trope by name before the first one he presses.

Western Animation

  • Dexter's Laboratory
    • DeeDee elevated this to an art form, as this would usually be the last thing Dexter would hear before one of his inventions goes awry. She sort of Lampshaded it in the episode where Dexter's trying to sleep:

DeeDee: I went into your lab... and, I pushed this button...
Dexter: Oh, just like the last thousand times?
DeeDee: I think it's really serious this time... (cut to self-destruct device counting down)

  • Parodied in Gorsky and Butch when Gorsky is trying to disarm a bomb.
  • The Simpsons: Bart Simpson turned this attitude up to eleven on an invisible (read: made with transparent casing) computer. He managed to crash the hard drive to the point where it caught fire.
  • Darkwing Duck
    • This is the attitude that Darkwing approached the Ramrod with in the Pilot. He was deliberately trying to disable it or at least break it—he ended up overloading it. The explosion was visible from miles and miles away.
    • Gosalyn can be pretty bad about it as well.

Gosalyn: What else does it do?
"Don't touch that!!"
Gosalyn: Why not? (presses the button anyway)

  • Kim Possible
    • Ron Stoppable. One major example is in A Sitch in Time where by foolishly pressing the dangerously button he destroyed an evil giant statue monkey.
    • This line + Drakken's mother = one of the funniest moments in the series.
  • When Batman and the Joker team up in Batman the Brave And The Bold, the Joker asks this about every button in the Batmobile. Finally, when Batman warns him to especially not push the big red button, the Joker does, getting sprayed with sleep gas as a consequence. Even better, he does it twice. Bruce smirks at the second one.
  • In an episode of Batman the Animated Series, Harvey Bullock asks this about one of the Batmobile's buttons. Batman half-grins and says, "Passenger ejector seat".
  • Flash does it in Justice League (said button is on the cockpit of a Thanagarian gunship)... and blows a giant hole in the wall of Wayne Manor, almost killing Alfred. Batman immediately rounds on him, saying "THAT'S. NOT. HELPING!"
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Family Guy. Peter presses a button clearly marked "Do Not Press This Button". A small Asian man appears, bows, then kicks Peter in the head.
  • In an episode of Invader Zim, specifically "Battle of the Planets", GIR is sent to distract Dib. He goes off and makes it look like he's going to do something evil and actually competent, when all he ends up doing is randomly pushing buttons on Dib's controls, saying, "What's this do? What's that do?" And somehow this manages to fulfill his given assignment regardless.
  • One episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Jimmy doing just this, ruining Lucius' flight to the moon.
  • The classic The Ren and Stimpy Show episode "Space Madness" ends with Commander Hoek, driven mad by... well, by space madness, brings Cadet Stimpy around the bend with him by ordering him to guard the History Eraser Button, with a very strict order not to let anyone touch it. Finding out what that button does is already tantalizing enough before the narrator decides to pile on the excruciating suspense.

Narrator: Oh, how long can trusty Cadet Stimpy hold out? How can he possibly resist the diabolical urge to push the button that could erase his very existence? Will his tortured mind give in to its uncontrollable desires? Can he withstand the temptation to push the button that even now beckons him ever closer? Will he succumb to the maddening urge to eradicate history at the mere push of a single button? The beautiful, shiny button? The jolly, candy-like button? Will he hold out, folks? CAN he hold out?
Stimpy: NO I CAN'T! (pushes button)
Narrator: Tune in next week as--

  • Phineas and Ferb had this exchange(although it might have been more panic than curiousity):

Phineas: Alright, Candace, you'll be fine as long as you don't push any buttons randomly.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 (2003): During their first off-planet adventure, the Turtles end up fleeing from some Triceratons in a flying car, with Mikey in the "sidecar".

Donny: Uh, leave the shiney buttons alone, Mikey!
Mikey: But it might be something really good. (his segment starts to detach) Or not.

  • The Bugs Bunny cartoon "Lighter Than Hare" has Bugs' robot facing off against Yosemite Sam Of Outer Space's robot:

(all lines delivered stiltedly robotic)
Bugs robot: Eh, what's up, doc?
Sam's robot: I'll show you what's up. (pulls ray gun) You're coming with me.
Bugs robot: I'll go with you on one condition. That you don't press this button. (points to button on body frame)
Sam's robot: Oh, yeah? No Earth robot is going to tell me what button to press. I'm a-pressin'!
(presses button; gets clobbered by forward-plunging mallet)

  • Bertie Mouse in the Warner Bros. cartoon "House-Hunting Mice" (the last button he presses causes him and Hubie to be taken to the cleaners by the house's remote-controlled units):

Bertie: (sing-song) I get to push the next button! I get to push the next button!

Real Life

  1. it controlled the light in Buck's doghouse