Game over. Those two words have flashed across game screens for decades, challenging gamers of all ages to go back, try again, and do better.

On a crisp, sunny afternoon in February, 163 third-year pharmacy students faced down those very same words. Using their knowledge of pharmacy law, the students spent a class battling Medusa, identifying constellations and navigating a labyrinth; all to help prepare them for an exam.

“[Pharmacy Law] has traditionally been a very difficult course, so we’re trying new ways to help students learn this material,” explained Pharmacotherapy Clinical Associate Professor Julie Akers.

To help with this goal, she recruited Pharmacotherapy Academic Fellow and recent WSU Doctor of Pharmacy graduate Boris Zhang to create a game that would re-engage students with the material in a new and interesting way.

Zhang took the idea and ran with it, putting his experience playing Dungeons and Dragons to good use and visiting comic book shops for ideas. Using Greek mythology as a theme, he created three activities for the students to navigate through option bubbles in the presentation mode of a PowerPoint.

After a few trial-runs with fourth-year students, Zhang introduced the game to the third-year pharmacy law class. As the student pharmacists rushed to begin, the room erupted in noise. Working in groups, they discussed the problems and used their pharmacy law resources to answer practice questions and proceed in the game.

“There was a lot of conversation at each table, and a lot of healthy debate as a group before they selected their final answer,” Akers said. “They were actively trying to convince each other because they didn’t want to get any questions wrong.”

Third year pharmacy students play an educational game together
Third year pharmacy students work together to build and identify constellations.

When a group got a question wrong, a chorus of “We died!” would echo across the room as they saw those two dreaded words, game over, asking them to restart an activity. Each time the students went back, it allowed them to re-engage with the material while reinforcing the information in their minds.

“It’s a review that’s not just a dry lecture,” Zhang said.

Instead, the students had to use their resources and engage in the material, actively taking a role in their education.

“This is better than reading the law book. It makes me want to learn more,” said Connor Capdeville, a third-year Doctor of Pharmacy student, as he and two other classmates enthusiastically began their next challenge.

Each activity required students to think about the material in different ways. In the first, answers to eight multiple-choice questions guided them through a battle with Medusa.

In the second, they identified items that belonged together on a list.

“In pharmacy law, there’s a lot of ‘must,’ ‘should,’ ‘shall,’ and ‘may,’” explained Akers.

Students had to differentiate between these by marking, for example, only those things that pharmacists ‘must’ do while ignoring those they ‘should’ to correctly build and identify constellations. In the third activity, the labyrinth, these same lists reappeared as a choice between two answers leading students along the correct path through the maze.

As they completed each activity they received orbs which they unscrambled in the final screen to find a quote from Marcus Aurelius, “What we do now echoes in eternity.”

Zhang explained he chose the quote because, “just like with the law, whatever you choose follows you forever.”