There is a part of me that wants to fill a game with all kinds of secret little nooks and crannies, each stuffed with inside jokes and secret references that add to the atmosphere of a game. Doing this with music is a bad idea, though, because musical references (unless they are to something lasting such as Beethoven) lose their relevance quickly.
Let’s say that I use popular band A’s song. Given that most IF games take a while to complete, the band may have broken up by the time the game is released! Or take the long-range view. What if the band remains together for twenty years, but their music changes over time? People familiar with the band’s late period may have a wholly different impression than those who gave up on them after their fifth album. Additionally, I’d be banking on the assumption that everyone who plays the game — or enough people who play the game — will remember or even know the band or song. If you favor obscure music (as I do), the odds are violently against this. If you favor mainstream acts, the chances are still slim.
Think what Zork I would be like if Dave Lebling referenced bands popular in the early 80′s. Some people would love it; others would hate it; but the fact remains is that it would be both out of place and it would date the game horribly. So unless you’re aiming to craft a period piece, referencing music isn’t the way to go.
Now I’m not arguing against characterization. Your game could feature NPC named Ed Flattery, a retired steelworker, who owns every single record that George Thorogood and the Destroyers ever made. That works; however, quoting George Thorogood’s lyrics at the beginning of the game doesn’t. Neither does scattering references to bands you enjoyed growing up throughout the game add to the atmosphere. The latter functions as red herrings which fewer and fewer people will get as the years march on, and serves more as artistic ego than fidelity to the game’s vision.
I need to remind myself of this when creating games. In fact, just writing this has made me realize that a few objects in Seasons really should change.