I am not a cat person. If you have to place me in a category, whatever is opposite of “cat person” is where you should assign my fate. Cats have never fascinated me or drawn drooling “awwws” from my lips or inspired me to write poems about them and claim that one is my spirit guide. And that’s fine, the world has room for diversity and I’m generally live-and-let-live with cats, even if I don’t understand their popularity.
And they are popular, especially in MMOs, where playable cat-people are far more likely to be an option than, say, a playable dog-person (oddly, World of Warcraft is one of the very rare games that has the latter without the former, Druid forms aside). And despite what you might think, not all cat-people are alike. Some are the basic “slap a cat head on a human body, add a tail, and call it a day” model (such as Star Trek Online’s Caitians and SWTOR’s Cathar). Other than giving your person a feline slant, you really aren’t going out on a limb with those kinds of picks.
FFXIVs Miqo’te are a textbook example of trying to make an animal-themed race that is as non-offensive to our eyes as possible. They’re… cute. They’re designed to be as cute and barely cat-like as possible, with slightly different hairlines, teeny tiny pointed canines, and widdle pointy ears. They’re the option for players who are tired of humans but also still want to be a human with only minor cosmetic differences.
Guild Wars 2, for better and for worse, went whole cat hog with its Charr. Technically it’s supposed to be more of a beast character, an amalgrim of various animals, but if we’re honest, that mix is about 90% cat and 10% “assorted.” The designers definitely tried for something different than a svelte human with fur, giving the Charr a larger frame with a distinctive hunch, backward knee joints, and long claws and snouts. When you play a Charr — probably to admire how well this race’s helmets fit — you have no illusions that you’re a hulking brute of a cat. You’re a tiger monster amid a sea of soft bellies.
I also have been contemplating Elder Scrolls Online’s Khajiit. Visually, there’s an astounding range of looks that capture many types of cats instead of just one basic template. I don’t often see “lion” cat-people in MMOs, but I do here — and not just lions, but tigers, pumas, and other predatory felines.
Maybe for some, cat-people are an expression of how much they love the look of their own pets, and maybe for others, these races harken to this fantasy of being a stealthy, quick, and ferocious apex predator. At least we’re not seeing the same-old, same-old boilerplate variants between games as we do, say, Elves.