The initial hope for the digital platform-based “sharing economy” was that it would both empower workers and reduce the broader economy’s carbon footprint. Neither has happened under corporate ownership; but ample research shows that alternative cooperative models could reclaim the sector’s original promise.
BOSTON – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep socioeconomic fault lines in many countries, including poor occupational conditions for the app-based gig workers who drive, shop, deliver, clean, run errands, and, more recently, provide care work. Many gig workers have reported difficulties accessing personal protective equipment, sick pay, and medical care. Demand for ride-hails, care work, and other services has collapsed, compounding chronic problems in the sector, such as low pay, oppressive algorithm-based supervision, and arbitrary dismissal.
Contrary to expectations, the gig economy has become yet another source of unsustainable greenhouse gases. Although many early proponents assumed that new ways of organizing consumer services would reduce emissions, studies of ride-hailing show that it increases cars registered, total vehicle miles traveled, and road congestion. Airbnb claims to reduce emissions by preempting new hotel construction; but its low-cost accommodations actually induce people to travel more (the so-called Jevons Paradox), which almost certainly outweighs the purported environmental benefits.
The first decade of the “sharing economy” might lead one to reject a role for app-based earning in any “green recovery” from the current downturn. Among political progressives, the emerging consensus is that we should focus instead on returning to stable, full-time employment with regular hours and union representation. That is the labor future envisioned in the proposed Green New Deal in the United States.
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.
Side gig. Side job. Side hustle. It goes by many names and serves many purposes. For some, it’s a way to keep the lights on. For others, it’s an opportunity to save for a goal or follow a passion.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have become unemployed. Many are turning to the gig economy to make money. And it’s booming.
“Obviously online shopping has become huge, and so delivery services are packed. You’ve got Amazon Flex trucks practically ramming into each other,” says Kathy Kristof, editor at SideHusl.com, a website that reviews hundreds of online money-making platforms.
Before you rush into a side gig, scrutinize the risks, the pay and other important details. Here’s how to choose the right pandemic side job for you.
ASSESS YOURSELF FIRST
As you begin searching for a side hustle, think about your experience, skills and interests. But more importantly, consider what you’re comfortable doing.
Are you willing to be in close contact with other people, or would you prefer a socially distant position? Are you part of a high-risk group for COVID-19? What would happen if you got sick and couldn’t work? The answers to these questions will help you decide what jobs to pursue.
If either your health or financial life could be ravaged by illness, you’re going to have to be more careful than the people without those risks, Kristof says.
“Somebody who doesn’t have that same sort of risk might feel completely comfortable doing contact-free deliveries for Grubhub or Dumpling or any of these other delivery services,” Kristof says. “But somebody who is high risk, you want an online job like online tutoring.”
EXPAND YOUR DEFINITION OF ‘SIDE GIG’
“Side gig” has become synonymous with a handful of jobs: dog walking, delivering groceries and driving for Uber or Lyft. But these aren’t the only opportunities occupying the space.
You can teach a virtual yoga class, for example, sell clothing online or work as a freelance designer. Through services like TaskRabbit, you can get paid to do odd jobs like yard work and assembling furniture.
Side and part-time jobs tend to rise during economically uncertain times, according to Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a job-search site for remote and flexible jobs. Chances are there’s something up your alley.
Roles outside the gig economy can be worth exploring, too. Features typically associated with side gigs, including flexible schedules and the ability to work from home, are increasingly spilling over into professional roles. Remote jobs posted on FlexJobs in career categories such as marketing, sales and project management have increased over 50% since March, according to a recent analysis from the site.
“Because we’ve never had to do this from home before, there was never as much acceptance. Now you’re getting widespread acceptance from the whole of corporate America,” Kristof says.
PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FINANCES
Once you narrow down your choices, dig into the details. Get a sense for what it’s like to work in a role, what the requirements are and how much you’re likely to earn before you commit.
You can avoid surprises by looking up a company’s Better Business Bureau rating, reading through the fine print on its website and checking out reviews on sites like SideHusl and Indeed.
“Let’s say you’re interested in delivery jobs, and you’ve got DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates. You want to look at each site and see what the fees are,” Weiler Reynolds says.
Many platforms charge registration, listing or commission fees, which can cut into your earnings. Some gigs also require you to pay expenses like gas and insurance for your vehicle. If you’re a rideshare driver, delivery driver or mover, your personal auto insurance policy doesn’t cover you for commercial risk, Kristof says.
“Some online platforms automatically cover you with a commercial policy. Others do not. So you should always look for that if you’re working for an online platform,” Kristof says.
Still, that won’t necessarily cover you in all circumstances, such as when you’re en route to pick up an order. Talk to your insurance company to ensure you get the proper protection.
You’ll also want to find out whether you’ll be classified as an employee or independent contractor. This determines how you’ll pay taxes and whether or not you’ll be entitled to certain benefits. Independent contractors need to set aside a portion of their pay for taxes themselves. Employers automatically withhold income taxes for employees and usually offer health insurance, 401(k) matches or paid time off.
Weiler Reynolds says freelancers or contractors may also have to pay taxes quarterly, which can be a bigger time investment.
Don’t forget to make safety a priority. Find out what protective measures the company or local government requires while you’re on the job. If you’re unable to avoid contact with others, prepare to take appropriate precautions, such as wearing a mask or gloves.