The Impact of COVID-19 on the Gig Economy in California
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in which we live. The virus has impacted everything from the economy to the medical field to how we interact with one another. In California, the virus and shutdown had heavy implications for the economy. With an economy centered on the entertainment industry, port system, tourism, and public university sector, the state was not spared from the virus induced recession with unemployment peaking at 15.5% in April of 2020 which was a 10% jump from the month prior.
The gig economy within the state also has not remained unaffected by the pandemic as well. A correlation has been seen between cases of COVID-19 and the amount of people applying for gig work which can be assumed in order to find a source of income while businesses remain closed or at lesser capacity and unemployment benefits tapering off. The below charts show how individuals were searching for jobs in San Francisco and California as a whole.
Along with an increase in interest in gig work, the industry specific gig work began to show a trend. Although businesses such as restaurants and bars are reopening, many cannot do so at full capacity yet thus the main interest in employment opportunities has moved towards remote work. Jobs such as freelancing or online surveys have seen an upward trend along with work that is necessary to continue social practices such as delivery jobs. These trends were particularly evident in the early stages of the pandemic as businesses began to close. While the interest in work such as housekeeping or babysitting or rideshare driving have been stunted due to social distancing practices.
Comparing the trends of interest in employment through the gig economy of 2019 and 2020, shows how the pandemic has impacted how people search for work. While delivery jobs remain of high interest and only gained attraction, rideshare driving saw a significant decrease. Another notable increase is interest in online surveys as they provide a supplemental income while also being doable from home or at a distance.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only has impacted the economy as a whole but how people apply for work. As the world moves out of a recession and into a new socially distant normal, the gig economy’s presence has increased and strengthened as the unemployed search for work that is flexible with the times.
Part Time UFO, an adorable physics game developed by HAL Egg and published by HAL Laboratory, was surprise-ported onto Nintendo Switch after beginning its life as a mobile game in 2018. The game features a crash-landed UFO who puts their giant claw to use helping the folks around town with their lifting and moving problems, all for some nice, equitable pay.
I can’t imagine how this game played as a mobile title as the joystick controls are perfectly reminiscent of a claw game at the boardwalk or arcade. Your UFO friend drops its claw down, wide-open and ready to grab something. When you latch on, whether to a box of fruit, a piece of a construction project, or a very patient cheerleader, your claw starts swinging around and your grip becomes precarious. The controls are very sensitive, but always fair as you work to carefully hold onto and balance each object. You can also bump objects, try to flip them, and use the momentum of your swinging claw to get extra advanced in your manipulation.
The objectives in each level range from stacking items up high, building objects with slightly lopsided elements, collecting things as fast as possible, or manipulating heavy objects in a proper series to make the load bearable. They’re all cutely themed too, where in one level you may be helping a farmer, the next, a museum curator, and the next, a fisherman.
Each level has three bonus objectives, one usually tied to completion within a certain amount of time and the other two based on visual puzzles. When you pause the game, images of what the game requires of you will show, but they are not always completely clear. If you can decipher what they mean though, you earn medals. These medals are required to unlock the next three levels, as well as may contribute to in-game achievements. Achieving all three in a given level unlocks a second, more difficult version of the level.
They also earn you more cash. For each item you help move throughout the game, as well as each bonus objective you complete, you earn money. Money can be redeemed at a store operated by a somewhat racist caricature of a genie-like alien. You buy absolutely adorable outfits for your UFO at the store, each of which comes with a different little emote-action your UFO does in-level if you press L.
That’s pretty much the whole game. The levels are fun and increasingly difficult as you go on. The incentives between new costumes and in-game achievements are worth pushing yourself to achieve all of the medals. There is also a “how high can you stack these random objects” mode that is extra challenging, but offers only a local leaderboard and more in-game achievements as a reward.
The music is excellent and catchy. It’s a simple theme that repeats over and over, but it has slight thematic variations in each level. Part Time UFO also has a local multiplayer mode on the Nintendo Switch. It is essentially the exact same as the game in single-player, just with a friend. The difficulty isn’t scaled or anything, you just have two UFOs working together now.
The thing about Part Time UFO that I find most interesting though personally, as a card-carrying, multiple 1099 wielding member of the gig economy, is just how starkly this game represents its various realities. When you first being the game, you cold open into the first level without even seeing a menu. Your UFO buddy is just by chance on the scene of a farmer in need of help. Wanting to do the right thing and enjoying using your claw to move things around, you help out. But then, the farmer offers to pay you. He literally makes a comment about how bizarre it is you’ve never been justly compensated for your labor before. He then gives you a lecture about the value of work and provides you with a magazine full of job listings to go off and make more money in the freelance world.
So, on one hand, I deeply appreciate that this farmer is prioritizing justice and equity in the labor he benefits from. As a basic moral value, his immediate propensity to pay you for your work, unprompted, is the way everybody should treat labor. But on the other hand, his schpiel about the value of hard work and the need for every young person to go out and earn their keep is concerning. Neither humans nor UFOs should be judged based on how much one man thinks they contribute to the workforce.
He’s also contributing to the hustle-fication of the UFO’s pastime. As so many folks are learning these days, it’s not always healthy to turn your passions into work. It can take the joy and relaxation out of it. Yet, the cute little living space that your UFO buddy hangs out in on the main menu indicates that clearly, the gig work they perform is for additional discretionary income, not basic survival. You use the money you earn to buy cute clothes for fun, not to pay your rent. So this quandary is difficult to assess.
In a time where so many folks are turning to gig economy work out of sheer necessity because it is the only kind of work that is available, and when companies like Uber and Lyft are fighting so hard to make gig labor less protected and less valued, I’m a bit uncomfortable with a game that is so explicitly romanticizing gig labor. While there are indeed romantic elements, and for many, it is a viable source of income or livelihood, it is not always a just or healthy system. At least Part Time UFO emphasizes just compensation for labor performed. I just hope our buddy here gets good health insurance, sets their own hours, and isn’t slammed on their tax returns.
Psuedo-serious discussion of labor justice aside, Part Time UFO is an adorable and totally fun little game worth the couple of bucks. The numerous challenging levels, in-game incentives, super-cute aesthetic, and very captivating gameplay make this game well worth the leap from mobile to console.
Part Time UFO is available now on Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android.
Part Time UFO
Part Time UFO is an adorable and totally fun little game worth the couple of bucks. The numerous challenging levels, in-game incentives, super-cute aesthetic, and very captivating gameplay make this game well worth the leap from mobile to console.