Exploring new worlds, One level at a time
by Isabella Tang, Wharton MBA '18
When I was five years old, my parents took me down an aisle of a Toys “R” Us and asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Overwhelmed, I pointed randomly to a colorful box. The very next day, the Super Mario All-Stars game was underneath our tree – a brilliant compilation of five treasured titles released 1985 to 1993. This event was significant for two reasons. First, I completely bypassed believing in the Santa myth. And second, I fell in love with Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and gang – the strange whimsical worlds they inhabited, the goofy musical themes, the buoyantly heroic storylines, the thrill of advancing to the next level in the game.
Super Mario All-Stars might very well be where it all began. The following years of exploration were a gradual build-up of creative mediums – “levels,” if you will. For example, Level 1: I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old, in 3rd grade science class. It was about the birds and the bees (quite literally; we were learning about ecosystems). Level 2: Around this time, I also began taking classical piano lessons and fell in love with the instrument. Level 3: At thirteen, I wrote my first song with lyrics, combining piano with poetry.
After a thrilling debut performance at my college's freshman year talent show, I realized that telling stories through music brought a lot of joy to me – and to other people. I began to write and perform more, eventually earning the opportunity to open for 8-time Grammy-nominated R&B artist Jazmine Sullivan.
After college, I continued to pursue singing and songwriting while working as a management consultant in Los Angeles. I played everything from small scrappy gigs to corporate galas and historic venues like the House of Blues. It was a real roller coaster ride, filled with humbling lows, like playing to an audience of four, as well as serendipitous wins, like placing Top 5 in an international songwriting competition.
During this time, I also wrote and produced an original pop album, embracing my classical and acoustic roots while experimenting with more modern electronic sounds – and occasionally, even rap.
It was producing my music video "Passenger" that gave me my first taste of a multi-sensory production -- the ultimate level so far. In the video, I played one of two characters exploring a series of surreal fantasy worlds, from dancing through a star-filled galaxy on a beach to exploring a floating art gallery. I loved the magic of adding camera direction, set design, and digital effects to immerse the viewer into a story, a game, a journey, an adventure.
By then, I had gathered a hodge-podge collection of fascinations, from Super Mario to Cirque du Soleil to escape rooms to immersive theatre. I realized that, as vastly different as they may seem, they are all united by common elements: sensory immersion in a different universe, a compelling narrative, and a shared social experience.
Recently I spent a lovely summer as a Corporate Strategy MBA intern at Princess Cruises. Here at the intersection of travel, hospitality, and entertainment, I gained a close-up view of how a floating city / theme park can literally and figuratively transport people into new worlds and new adventures. I also got a firsthand look at how companies are developing digital technologies to enhance the analog experience.
I recognize that immersive technologies can exponentially magnify these analog experiences. Among my favorite VR experiences: I embodied a dancing amoeba in an evolutionary journey over several billion years, and I glimpsed the set of stark choices that a journalist might make while being interrogated by an oppressive regime. I am fascinated by the ways in which augmented reality and virtual reality are being applied, across industries and businesses.
I want to keep telling stories and keep exploring new possibilities. As I reflect upon our current times and look forward, I truly believe in the potential of immersive technologies and experiences to educate, empathize, inspire, and delight – and ultimately, to enrich our stories and change our realities for good.
Hi! I'm currently a student in the Wharton MBA program and formerly a management consultant at McKinsey & Company with experience in strategy, startup operations, product marketing, and organization design. I am also a performing singer-songwriter who has released an original album and music videos.
I am driven by my passion and interest in art, design, business, and immersive experiences. My goal is to help tell stories that propel imagination, learning, and justice.